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Brazil ‘coffee police’ fight shop fraud

November 29th, 2009

coffee Joao PessoaBrazil’s coffee industry is engaged in a tireless battle against rogue roasters who cut corners and costs by bulking up their products with corn, soy or even wood, the ABIC industry association says.

The tainted products have not been known to cause health problems in the consumers who drink them, usually unknowingly, but the industry takes a hard line against the fraudulent practice to protect the beverage’s image.

The joint initiative known as the Seal of Purity is run by the Brazilian Coffee Industry Association (ABIC) and involves laboratory testing of coffee picked at random from supermarket shelves. The seal was launched 20 years ago.

“The most common thing is to find wood from the (coffee) tree and shells from the beans but you can also find corn or caramel, which is much cheaper than coffee,” said Almir Jose da Silva, ABIC’s chairman.

Most of Brazil’s exported coffee is shipped as raw beans, confining this problem to products sold at home. Silva said the problem was still small given the huge amount of coffee sold in Brazil, the world’s No. 1 coffee grower and No. 2 consumer.

Brazilian law prohibits the sale of coffee with more than 1 percent impurities, and ABIC has taken upon itself to weed out producers who flout the rules. It reports sub-standard products to the public prosecutor and health authorities.

“Our forecast for 2010 is to carry out more than 3,000 collections” to test, Silva said. ABIC members whose coffee is consistently free of impurities are allowed to use the Seal of Purity label on their packaging.


Roasters falling short of the law on the other hand, are given the opportunity by judicial authorities to fix the problems within a set time and their contaminated batches are withdrawn from sale.

The fine is doubled if more impure coffees are discovered at a later date and then companies can eventually be shut down by the government authorities if the practices continue.

This year, 10 firms were thrown out of ABIC and reported for deliberately bulking up their products. Some even go to the trouble of heating sugar to confection caramel to add, which unusually imparts a bitter rather than sweet taste.

Silva said the presence of contaminants was occasionally accidental, but rarely.

“Some don’t take the necessary precautions but in the case of fraud using corn and sugar, this is done deliberately by the industry,” Silva said, adding firms involved were immediately expelled from ABIC since their actions were intentional.

He said he knew of no cases of health problems due to such products but said impurities could cause discomfort.

“These coffees can make you feel unwell in the stomach or make you burp a lot,” Silva said in an interview.

ABIC’s efforts in hunting down fraudulent coffee producers are intended to avoid damage to coffee’s image and also to help the industry continue to recruit new drinkers.

“Research shows that when coffee is good quality it develops the habit of consumption and when it is bad it can stop people drinking coffee. Quality is what develops consumption,” Silva said.

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