U.S. foodservice distributors serious about fraud

The United States’ three largest foodservice distributors have all recently informed their domestic and foreign seafood suppliers that they have zero tolerance for products that are not accurately labeled for weight, origin and species.

In the latest industry-led effort to proactively tackle seafood fraud, Sysco Corp., US Foods and Performance Food Group each wrote letters to their suppliers informing them that economic integrity is a priority. SeaFood Business obtained copies of all three letters.

The most recent letter was written just last week: On 9 December, Performance Food Group of Richmond, Va., thanked its “tried and true” seafood suppliers, whom the company contends are hurt when a “fraudulent few” are accused, caught or exposed for misleading customers.

“One on-going risk we must work together to mitigate, is the accusation of seafood commerce fraud or unethical seafood practices,” wrote James Spatola III, VP of procurement, and J. Keith Jackson, VP of quality assurance. “Therefore we are sending you this letter to inform/remind you about PFG’s position on these issues, so our expectations and tolerance are explicitly understood. In general our ethical expectations are extremely high, but specifically and more importantly, our tolerance of unethical or illegal practices is zero.”

“Seafood misbranding misleads the foodservice customer and because it is against the law can lead to regulatory action and civil lawsuits,” wrote Houston-based Sysco executives in a letter dated 23 August. “Sysco will not tolerate misbranding by its suppliers … Should we become aware of any efforts of your company to provide us with anything less than safe, wholesome and properly labeled product bearing the correct net weight of the product in the package, immediate action will be taken up to and including termination of your status as an approved suppliers.”

Sysco’s senior seafood director, James “Butch” Vidrine, has been an outspoken advocate for economic integrity in the past; this is not the first such letter Sysco has sent to its seafood suppliers.

US Foods’ letter, dated 3 October, has similar language. The Rosemont, Ill.-based distributor has informed its suppliers about its expectations of labeling compliance for the past six years, most recently on 25 March. “Specifically, we expect that all seafood products will not be adulterated, misbranded or misrepresented within the meaning of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Food Additives Amendment, and all other revisions and amendments thereto,” wrote US Foods executives, including Jorge Hernandez, senior VP of food safety and quality assurance.

The National Fisheries Institute of McLean, Va., has worked for years to rally the industry around anti-fraud initiatives, requiring all of its members to sign an economic integrity pledge. NFI also established the Better Seafood Board to field complaints and arbitrate solutions among member companies and to address the actions of non-NFI members that harm the entire industry.

NFI President John Connelly, in the organization’s first-ever Google+ “hangout” on Tuesday, said public commitments to root out fraud “can only help.”

“It’s not only the right thing to do for the broad seafood industry, it’s very good for those three distributors because it puts them on record with their suppliers as not accepting anything that’s adulterated or mislabeled,” said Connelly.


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