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MSU launches first anti-counterfeiting research program

EAST LANSING, Mich.- Michigan State University has launched the nation's first comprehensive research and training program designed to address product counterfeiting- which the FBI has called "the crime of the 21st century."

The counterfeiting of products- from pharmaceuticals to food additives to auto parts- accounts for hundreds of billions of dollars in global trade and has a major impact on health and safety, the economy, the environment and national security. Terrorist and other organized crime groups use proceeds from counterfeit goods to support their actions.

But there remains a lack of independent research on counterfeiting activities around the world, as well as evidence-based strategies to combat the crime. That's where MSU's Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program, or A-CAPPP, will come in, said Jeremy Wilson, program director and associate professor of criminal justice.

"We're blending the different sciences and bringing something unique to the table here," Wilson said. "The focus is to provide lessons to industry and government to help reduce counterfeiting and the negative impacts of counterfeiting. Our goal is to serve as an international hub for anti-counterfeiting."

Wilson said industry leaders turned to Michigan State for independent analysis, intellectual leadership and solutions to counterfeiting. MSU responded by creating the interdisciplinary initiative that relies on researchers from a host of areas including criminal justice, food safety, international business, engineering, public health and communications.

MSU already is conducting a wealth of activities that relate directly or indirectly to counterfeiting, working with such federal agencies as the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Customs and Border Protection.

One of the first major projects, Wilson said, involves creating a database of product counterfeiting incidents in the United States dating back to 2000. The information could be used to help develop anti-counterfeiting strategies and train corporate and government officials to fight the crime.

A-CAPPP will target counterfeiting and product protection of all products in all regions around the globe, Wilson said, adding that currency is not a focus. Specifically, the research and technology focus includes:

  • Counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa. According to estimates, nearly one-third of all medicines for sale in Africa are fake. Further, counterfeit drugs are attributed to nearly one-fifth of all childhood malaria-related deaths, according to a report from Wilson and Roy Fenoff in MSU's School of Criminal Justice.
  • Counterfeit food additives in China. This includes the inclusion of melamine in pet food and baby formula- a "systematic and accepted practice" in China before humans and animals started getting sick and dying, according to report by MSU researcher Robyn Mace.
  • The protection of food, water, health and consumer goods through the use of biosensors. Evangelyn Alocilja, associate professor of biosystems engineering, is a world leader in the development of this technology through her Nano-Biosensors Lab at MSU. One example: a DNA marker embedded in textiles that could be used to determine the authenticity of purses and apparel.

John Spink, associate director of A-CAPPP and assistant professor of criminal justice, said the global market for counterfeiting is surprisingly large- at an estimated $600 billion, its equivalent to the market for illegal drugs.

Spink also refuted the perception that counterfeiting "is all luxury goods, high-end watches and software" and that only corporations' bottom lines are damaged by the crime. He said just about any product can be counterfeited- including dollar-store toothpaste- and that the bogus products often are made in sweatshops with "deplorable conditions."

"Product counterfeiting is a risk to these exploited workers and it's a risk to the consumer," Spink said. "The Western view is that our products are safe in general, but all of a sudden you've got melamine in pet food, Christmas tree lights that catch fire, lead paint on toys. This is clearly not a victimless crime."


Contact: Jeremy Wilson
Michigan State University

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