Disasters cause secondary effects everywhere, as we’re seeing right now with COVID-19. In this case, the disaster is an infectious disease, and the corollary effects will continue for years to come across the food supply chain.
When we consider supply chain disruptions, they’re driven by multiple factors. And that’s exactly what experts like Dr. Amy Kircher, Senior Advisor of the Food Protection and Defense Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, study: the drivers from an event or condition that create opportunities or incentives to commit crimes or disrupt systems.
“We also know that population trends and human behavior will drive some disruption to the system,” Kircher explained in a recent conversation with TraceGains CEO Gary Nowacki. “One of the greatest stories we share is that of the pomegranate. They were touted as having health benefits and then we had more pomegranate products than we’d ever seen before. We saw what followed was a cascading food fraud that was associated with pomegranates where people were just trying to make money in the system.”
Kircher advises companies to think about either food fraud and food safety standards while considering operations during this pandemic:
Are there transportation links we’re concerned about?
Do we have cargo vessels that aren’t moving as COVID-19 disrupts normal business, meaning we have reduced transportation?
Do we have air carriers that aren’t moving as frequently?
Do we have the same quality controls in place?
An Intelligent Adversary
Perpetrators of food fraud are intelligent adversaries, Kircher argues.
“We have somebody who’s always observing the system finding vulnerabilities, gaining access, and then evading detection and working around your mitigation strategies,” she said. “Unfortunately, even though we’re in this horrific space that is a global pandemic, bad guys still think like bad guys and they’re watching the system and trying to determine where they can make money from the system.”
Companies should look for threats within what Kircher calls the food defense threat triangle. Fraud, sabotage, and terrorism in the food system can’t happen unless these three components exist:
- Motivation. The intent to do harm, including making money.
- Capability. The knowledge and tactics needed to infiltrate the food system or food products.
- Vulnerability. Accessibility or a place where adulteration could create an impact.
“The bottom line is that we can’t control the motivation of another person,” Kircher said. “We can’t control their capability. But what we can collectively control is vulnerability. So [this means we need to] really understand where companies have holes in their systems we can mitigate against.”
According to Kircher, cybersecurity is also a growing threat in the food and ag space. This makes it of the utmost importance to know your system inside out, from manufacturing to transportation, procurement, and logistics.
Kircher advises companies take a close look at their products and deconstruct them into their parts:
Are supply demand shifts happening right now for the components?
Because we have restricted movement, are changes happening that increase vulnerability that wouldn’t normally exist? Consider logistics – both upstream and downstream.
Are product prices fluctuating? Are changes happening in commodity pricing and are we following these changes to understand if counterfeiters are entering the market? Often these fluctuations mean there’s something amiss in the system.
Look at your primary ingredient sources. What COVID-19 measures are happening in those countries? Are there decreased workforces in those countries? Are production plants or harvesting being shut down? Can you trace every ingredient from origin to destination and vice versa?
TraceGains has a partnership with the University of Minnesota for access to data collected and curated by their Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) in St. Paul, Minnesota. FPDI protects the global food supply through research and education and has earned a reputation for pioneering innovative solutions. By integrating the university’s vast amount of data with TraceGains Smart Alerts, companies will be better equipped to address global food system vulnerabilities