Botanical fraud: the extent of the threat, and how to prevent it


Hylobates Consulting, Rome, Italy


Fraud has historically occurred in the food sector, with a significant economic, and sometimes health, impact on consumers. Due to their complex chemical composition and difficulties in authentication, botanicalsare an obvious target for fraud. 

The literature, as well as anecdotal reports, indicate that various form of adulteration of botanicals occur in the global supply chain, and also in the EU. Although individual suppliers from Europe are leaders in transparency, the FS supply chain as a whole appears vulnerable, and EU-level action has not yet addressed this sector. Various forms of adulteration have been reported, and often target weak analytical methods, when prices, availability, lack of oversight and traceability provide higher incentives. Case-studies (DMAA disguised as geranium oil in 2012; progesterone in guggul in 2017; hepatitis in curcumin in Italy in 2019) are discussed to draw lessons. Suggestions for prevention and management of incidents are presented and discussed.

Among substances with a physiological effect, botanicals are one of the most important categories of ingredients for food supplement. While the term “botanical” is instinctively associated with plants, the definition under European Union (EU) law encompasses comminuted or powdered plants, but also individual plant parts, algae, fungi and lichen.


 From botanical substances, botanical preparations can be derived; they are defined as preparations “obtained from botanicals by various processes (e.g. pressing, squeezing, extraction, fractionation, distillation, concentration, drying up and fermentation) and include tinctures, extracts, essential oils, expressed juices and processed exudates” (Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1933 (1)). Contrary to other chemically defined substances used in food supplements, such as vitamins or aminoacids, it is in the complexity and natural origin of botanicals that lies their peculiar interest; it is however the same complexity that gives raise to quality control challenges.


Food supplements are regulated as food in the European Union, under Dire ...