The antithesis between counterfeiting and health

05 Mar, 2021

One of the main goals established by the United Nations in the Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. According to the UN, in 2017 more than half of the world population was not covered by essential health services. (1)

Plus, the actual pandemic has demonstrated that a health emergency can push people into poverty, both in rich and poor countries. As we will see, illicit productions and sales have a deep negative impact on health and well-being, whichever is the industry afflicted.

Consequences of counterfeit crop protection products

The presence of criminal practices and the infiltration of illicit substances in the food and feed production processes have serious repercussions on the whole food chain, from farm to fork. The use of fake pesticides for instance, may leave unacceptable levels of toxic residues on crops, making them unfit for human (or animal) consumption. In addition, they might contain unapproved or obsolete chemicals, whose direct exposure can result in long-term health problems for farmers. Except for chronic effects, food adulteration and mislabeling is also liked to immediate reactions such as allergy, intolerance, or, in worst cases intoxication and death. Possibly, one of the most famous examples relates to infant powder milk adulterated with Melamine. The fraud took place in China in 2008 and lead to six deaths and to the hospitalization of more than 50,000 newborns. (2) Another well-known scam dates to 1981, when rapeseed oil destined to industrial use was sold on street markets in Spain as “olive oil”. In that circumstance, almost 700 people died and more than 20,000 got sick. (3)

Dangers and effects of counterfeit spirits

The major health risks related to illicit alcohol trade are linked to counterfeit alcohol and fictious brands. This is because counterfeiters produce in absence of controls and in total disregard for sanitary, quality and safety regulations. Often ethanol is replaced with cheaper substitutes such as chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and methanol or isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and in some fuels. (4) This last eventuality could have fatal consequences as seen in Italy in 1986 in Italy (5) and more recently in India, where in February 2019, more than 300 people died after the consumption of illegal liquor tainted with methanol.(6)

Impact of pirated goods on the market

Illegal goods are produced bypassing product safety regulations, environmental controls, and labor laws. The result is that these goods are often of poor quality and unknown composition. Examples include apparently harmless products like watches and handbags crafted with allergenic or toxic materials. The consequences can be even much more injurious when we deal with counterfeit electronic goods that may explode or with fake auto parts like malfunctioning airbags and brake pads.

Counterfeit products in the medical sector

Illegal medicines are significantly risky for patients’ health for three main reasons. They may contain the wrong level or the wrong type of active ingredient needed. They could fail to meet safety standards and regulatory specifications. They may not have been approved by any medical authority. In this field, the effects of counterfeiting on health are fatal. Estimates show that between 72,000 and 169,000 children may be dying from pneumonia every year after receiving bad drugs, and that fake anti-malaria medication might be responsible for an additional 116,000 deaths. (7) Another issue is linked to the enormous quantity of counterfeit low quality condoms sold worldwide which undermine the 3.3 SDG to the defeat sexually transmitted diseases.

Sustainable Development Goals and the fight against counterfeiting

In line with the 3rd Sustainable Development Goal, through its anticounterfeiting solutions, Authena is supporting the efforts of its partners in ensuring product and consumer safety in all the cited industries. The proprietary end-to-end technology framework developed by Authena provides to each product a digital passport that certifies origin, integrity, and authenticity. Plus, a synergy between blockchain, Near Field Communication tags and Internet of Things devices can track goods along their entire value chain, allowing real-time monitoring and digital audits. Finally, the data collected by the products along their journey generate precious market insights to properly plan production and marketing activities. Thanks to this technology, brands hamper illicit markets and prove customers their efforts in ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

Alessandro Tacconelli

consumer health and sustainability