How do you stop falsified products entering global supply chains?

  • By Trevor Nichols
  • June 09, 2015
  • Life Sciences
  • Pharmaceuticals

The scale of falsified products

The world is trussed by global supply chains. When it comes to sourcing products, an international approach is favoured by many industries: pharmaceutical, dental, medical, cosmetic, food, drink and tobacco. Yet when production is veiled by geography, the door is left open for fraudsters to create falsified and counterfeit products.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than half of the medications and pharmaceuticals purchased online are falsified – and that up to 15% of the world’s medicines are counterfeit. And in 2014 UK police seized 17,156 litres of counterfeit vodka with an estimated street value of £1 million.

An expensive problem

Last year the University of Portsmouth released a report entitled Minimising Fraud and Maximising Value in the UK Food and Drink Sector 2014, in which they estimated that food and drink fraud is costing UK manufacturers £11.2 billion a year.

With regards to pharmaceuticals, it’s easy to imagine the serious health consequences that can (and do) occur from fraudulently produced medications. Yet the bigger picture is that without rigorous serialisation and traceability measures, pharmaceutical manufacturers can wind up recalling huge quantities of drugs. The subsequent operational and legal costs can snowball into the billions.

The pharmaceutical industry fights back

In July 2011 the EU published the Falsified Medicines Directive, which became effective from January 2013. Legislative measures included:

  • Obligatory authenticity feature on outer packaging
  • A common EU-wide logo to help identify legal and genuine online pharmacies
  • Strengthened record-keeping requirements for wholesale distributors
  • Tamper-evident packaging

Building on this, there is currently a global move towards item-level serialisation – enabling individual packets of medication to be tracked from production line to patient. The deadline for legislative compliance among the majority of EU member states is expected in 2018.

The drinks industry fights back

Drinks manufacturers have been subject to increasingly stringent legislation over the last few years as governments square up the problem of counterfeit beverages, calling for efficient coding and marking of products and packaging at every stage in the supply chain.

In response manufacturers stay alert to the latest enterprise-level coding technologies, ready to tackle any conceivable challenge. Today tracking codes can be applied to a huge range of materials including glass, plastics, films and foils. And printers can flip between different sets of packaging instantly.

Unique barcodes can be created that allow consumers to use their smartphones to verify the provenance of their product. And Global Closure Systems have created a bottle cap that prevents criminals refilling genuine bottles with fake contents. That’s achieved via a tamper-evidence ring that breaks off if forced removal is attempted.

The time to act is now…

Thanks to widely-publicised breaches of supply chain integrity – such as the horsemeat scandal – consumers have never been more alert to provenance and traceability. The legislative measures go some distance in helping to tackle what is a dangerously widespread problem. But businesses themselves must take responsibility for managing the safety and integrity of their supply chains. And those who are the most proactive are likely to be rewarded by the buying public.

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