- Series: Bloomsbury Sigma
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (April 26, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1472911334
- ISBN-13: 978-1472911339
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,400,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sorting the Beef from the Bull: The Science of Food Fraud Forensics (Bloomsbury Sigma) 1st Edition, 1st Printing Edition
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"At $2,000 per unit, Grouper Check and devices like it are not likely to become everyday kitchen utensils, but in the hands of vigilant government and private watchdogs using similar methods, and a public informed by books like [Sorting the Beef from the Bull], we may be more able to trust that we really ate what we thought we ate for dinner. ―Natural History Magazine
"According to Evershed (Biogeochemistry/Univ. of Bristol) and conservationist and science writer Temple, the modern food processing system, with its complex food-supply chain and the ever present consumer demand for the lowest possible price, provides countless opportunities for malfeasance…Not pleasant reading for the faint of stomach, but a valuable guide for serious, conscientious shoppers. ―Kirkus Reviews
"Evershed and Temple reveal the many ways food fraud occurs: sometimes from innocent motives, like repurposing old food to avoid waste; sometimes from more sinister objectives, like deliberately creating a synthetic product… Research is nicely contextualized with historical instances of fraud, as Evershed and Temple evaluate how government and nonprofit organizations are working to detect the problem and deter it." ―Booklist
"Engagingly written, Sorting the Beef from the Bull lifts the lid on the forensics of food fraud and brings to light the full story of a vitally important and underreported issue." ―Examiner.com
"Fascinating and eye-opening, Sorting the Beef from the Bull is full of examples of how unsuspecting consumers around the world are being fooled by fraudsters. Everyone who cares about the quality of food should read this informative, enthralling book." ―Guy Crosby, science editor for America's Test Kitchen
"... Sorting the Beef from the Bull should be a must-read ..." ―David Firn, Financial Times
"This is a thoroughly practical book. It's not all about science and global supply chains, it's also engagingly down to earth." ―Country Life
"The truth, as this eye-opening book shows, is that food crime is a global problem." ―Daily Mail
"Nicola and Richard have opened up the complex world of food fraud into a comprehensive and well-researched journey through the food groups, alerting us to the scurrilous scams of pirates and profiteers. The technical complexity in identifying tricks of the trade are tantalisingly described within the context of stories, which bring fascination and relevance to the most ignored and pervasive mysteries of our daily lives. ―Diana Spellman, Managing Director of Partners in Purchasing
"Evershed and Temple assemble a detailed compendium of the myriad devious recipes employed by the schemers within the food industry." - CHOICE magazine
"Not only will this gripping and fast-paced book scare the hell out of you, but it will open your eyes and make you a more discerning consumer--and it may make you into a devoted locavore." - Forbes, "The 10 Best Popular Science Books of 2016: Maths, Physics, Chemistry"
About the Author
Richard Evershed is a biogeochemistry professor at the University of Bristol and a pioneer in the world of analytical chemistry. His methodologies have been used in detecting illegal vegetable oil adulteration and have assisted the Metropolitan Police in murder investigations.
Nicola Temple is a biologist, conservationist and science writer. Nicola writes engaging stories on how research has an impact beyond the closeted world of academia. Both authors are based in Bristol, UK.
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The authors make clear that this is not a book about bad eating habits or the evils of corporate capitalism in terms of agribusiness. It is about covert practices that are applied to food that gainsay the label. It is mostly about how we are not necessarily buying what we intend to buy and consume. Some times our food and potables are not what they claim to be and we are cheated out of some of our money. Sometimes we are poisoned. It is about food security, an often used but typically misunderstood concept. The general public that reads this book will get a clearer understanding of that term. It is about the intentional altering of food purely for profit.
They provide methods to test our purchases based on known chemistry which identifies types of structures that can only apply to certain products. It is written clearly and in a style that is readable but…most of us do not have a laboratory or the scientific background to examine the contents of what we eat. Really, we are not going to do that anyway. The science that they present does appear to be pretty sound though. The appendices do provide the chemical structures for those skilled at understanding them.
Their approach to getting what you pay for is very much as my own is and it comes from the food philosophy (if such a genre exists) of Michael Pollan. If you are shopping at a grocery store, as much as possible avoid the interior aisles. Stick to the periphery where the food is all less processed and in some cases not processed at all. In the typical grocery the jalapenos might have been gassed into ripeness but they at least are a product that grows in the ground.
The book cites two sources of information that are open to the public and those who want can explore the details of food security practices at the Codex Alimentarius web site. There is a broader scientific site called the Barcode of Life which includes many species including edible ones. These are both information packed locations to get dirty with the science of the author’s premises. They are not required reading to understanding this book however.
A brief aside here. I contracted with Safeway Stores in the early 1990s to write job descriptions and many of those occurred in a regional warehouse. This is where all produce and otherwise lands prior to being distributed to local stores. I watched the process of ethylene gassing of produce in order to enhance coloration and shelf life. The gas chamber is like one imagines after seeing a movie such as I Want to Live with Susan Hayward. No one wants a leaky door here.
It is better as they claim, to buy locally from farmers that one gains a rapport with. This is easily done most anywhere in America today with Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands thriving. Having worked as a produce seller for several years at Farmer’s Markets it became incumbent on me to know the product I was selling and to speak frankly with inquisitive customers. About half of the questions asked were reasoned and I wanted to ensure the customer that they were being answered correctly. (The other half of the questions included the likes of “Is this a tree grown apple?”)
The authors describe several foods that are prone to adulteration. Honey is a good example for starters. If you venture into middle aisle of your grocery store and select the store brand version you are likely to get a product that is a mix of many honeys all accumulated in a vast container at a warehouse and then this mixture is poured into the bottle that you will hold in your hand. The label will lack any sort of information that is useful as to the provenance of the honey. That is not fraud and there is nothing illegal with this practice nor is there anything illegal about similar practices regarding the ground meat that becomes the fast food delectable that advertisers make us want so much. The problem is when something goes wrong.
The food supply chain for most processed consumables is vast. The network is diverse and each part of the processing is unique to all of the others. Specific fraud can occur a continent away from where accidental tainting happens and another continent away from the vendor or grocery store. The more complicated the system of getting from farm to table becomes, the more likely that fraud will be involved. The book describes this often and it becomes particularly concrete to the reader when the discussion was of spices.
Accidental or deliberate adulteration of a product can be disastrous for consumers and financially catastrophic for the company. This is due to that expansive nature of the food chain, one encouraged by large companies. When there are too many players in the mix, a problem product goes undetected. There might not be actual fraud involved and there might. The problem is resolving the problem by finding out where it stemmed from. Of late we read and hear of the woes of the Chipotle chain that cannot be solved because of the massive number of involved farms producing food for the chain.
Regardless of how the contaminated produce is involved in the process of food scandals, there often is a type of fraud involved in the laying of blame. When suppliers are numerous then all players can point a finger elsewhere. Lines such as “the buck stops here” are rarely used. Companies go out of business anyway, stock prices drop and people get sick and sometimes for the last time.
The authors present that as well as so many other notions about how fraud can occur and why. Follow the money, no one needed to tell you that. If a product can be provided that is reduced in quality, how many of us really know? Are consumers experts on the quality of the extra virgin olive oil they consume? That is one example that the authors discuss and it has been in the media for several years. While I like to think I have a palate for finer foods this book convinced me that I probably really don’t.
The story becomes dismal and the methods that consumers use to confirm that they are getting what they paid for so weak that it is disheartening. It is for me anyway. So I return to what was written a few paragraphs ago. Whenever possible, buy food from farmers that you can talk to and only shop the periphery of your grocery stores if you can.
As consumers we are not blameless in all of this. We have proven to the grocery business that we want specialty products and we want them at our fingertips at any time. Likewise we are artful in our pretense. We are willing to buy the olive oil that has a convincing label and we really cannot tell the difference. This lends itself to the Red Queen Affect.
As consumers we demand sophistication in much of our food and frauds are prepared to give us what they imagine, that we need to satisfy our tastes. There are taste experts and they are rarely us. Our vanity drives us to discuss the provenance of some food based on a fraudulent description on a label. It makes for interesting dinner conversation.
These good ideas really only apply to those who can do that. I can drive to someplace where I can improve my chances of getting good food. Many people cannot. It is those most burdened by lack of resources that are most likely to be buying food that could be most anything. Years ago I found a can of “potted meat product” at a suburban grocery store. It cost about 45 cents and the label told the reader of all things involved in this product they dared not call meat. I bought it, not to eat but to display on my ledge of hard to believe products that I collect and are designed to be eaten…by poor people.
Another quick aside. Campbell’s has cans of broth amongst their many products. Nothing wrong with that though maybe an examination of the contents is worthwhile. I have no beef with Campbell’s (heh-heh) but on a can of yes, beef broth the label declares that it is “Great for Cooking”. I have a can in my collection. Had they not pronounced a use for this product I may have washed my hair with it.
So in general I thought this to be an informative work but one that left me feeling pretty cold about my prospects of getting what I pay for. It is hard to be enthusiastic about what is sold for food these days. The consumer who is diligent in their choices is still stuck with the prospects of what is actually involved in what they are eating.
I also was left disappointed about their lack of discussion about the Nestles fraud in their tainted baby formula sold in third world nations some 20 years ago. The only mention of that company was a short tribute to something ethical they did, it was a tribute albeit brief
I found this authoritative book to be very well written in a clear, lively, mostly accessible and engaging prose. Several organic molecules are mentioned as are some of the dynamics of chemical reactions. Some of the passages containing these may be more easily grasped by science enthusiasts than the average general reader. But these passages are relatively minor in comparison to the book’s main message. And I also found the stories recounted to be immensely captivating.
The authors started by giving an overview of food adulteration, then they described the origins of food fraud detection and compared it to what's currently being done about it. Next they looked at specific categories of food and described past methods of adulteration, what scientists can do to detect that adulteration, and what the consumer can do to avoid it.
The categories they covered were vegetable oil (including rapeseed, maize, and olive oil); fish; beef; milk, butter, and cheese; spices (including pepper, paprika, cayenne, chillies, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, salt, turmeric, and vanilla); beverages (including juice and wine); and whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and seeds.
The cases came from all over the world, but they mainly looked at cases in the UK, USA, and China. I appreciate that the authors gave advice on how the average consumer can try to avoid or detect adulterated products. I'm glad I'm informed now, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about food fraud.
I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.