Application of technology to fight Illicit trade

They include sub-standards of counterfeit and contraband goods smuggled into the country

In Summary
  • Counterfeits pose commercial loss, health and environmental hazards
  • Smart cards are another technology that is rapidly growing and is receiving rapid acceptance as anti-counterfeit devices.
Counterfeit alcohol seized in Mosoriot area, Nandi County.
Counterfeit alcohol seized in Mosoriot area, Nandi County.

Compliance of products imported into the country and manufactured within the country lies to several government agencies.

The agencies include the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) controlling substandard, Anti Counterfeit Authority (ACA) controlling counterfeits and Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) controlling medicines.

Other government agencies dealing with compliance are, Pest Control Product Board (PCPB) for pesticides, KEPHIS for control of grains and pulses, Communication Authority (CAK) for communication gadgets among others.

As the agencies strategise to combat non-compliance to protect the safety and health of consumers, there is a need to re-engineer our processes to adopt new technologies to effectively win the war against illicit trade. The strategies will also safeguard against unfair trade practices

Commercial Loss

Illicit goods include sub-standards of counterfeit and contraband goods smuggled into the country. Previous surveys indicate the magnitude of the commercial loss as well as safety concerns with the usage of these products. In addition to the commercial loss, there is the danger of environmental degradation affecting our efforts to contribute to climatic change policies.

Three key principles make up an efficient technological anti-counterfeiting and substandard strategy. This includes the use of harmonized and standardized coding and identification system; the use of covert and overt features to authenticate products and guarantees as to the integrity of manufactures packaging throughout the whole supply chain.

The available technologies for combating substandard and counterfeit trade are categorized as optical, electronic, biological and chemical technologies.

Optical technologies

Some of the anti-counterfeit technologies in use are in the optical field. This technology uses light and its many properties. Holograms are the most widely used as a means of product protection among optical technologies. A hologram is a recording of laser light that allows the recording of one and two- or three-dimension images on a flat surface as a microrelief diffraction pattern.

Using holograms as a security device has become successful due to various reasons. One of them is having social appeal, coupled with difficulty and high cost and investment to replicate them. Other technologies in use include optical thin films, retro-reflective material and scrambled images.

Electronics- Electronic technologies in use encompass a variety of different options. The leading security technology in this category is magnetic stripe. This one is mainly used to protect credit and bank cards. These stripes can store a considerable amount of information in coded form in magnetizable particles, readable by a contact scanner.

Rapid acceptance

Smart cards are another technology that is rapidly growing and is receiving rapid acceptance as anti-counterfeit devices. A smart card is a plastic card with a computer chip that allows to write into or read information from the card with various degrees of security.

In some countries, credit cards and phone cards are good examples of "smart" 33 technology. The long-term development is to come up with a super-smart card that will contain a user interface for entering data on a keypad and a visual display. Video recording and software industries have invested heavily in finding ways to defeat counterfeiters electronically.

They have developed a system such as electronic encryption that encodes original video with a disturbance signal that confuses video recording devices during copying. This disturbance signal ensures that pirated videos are of poor quality and are not viewable.

Another electronic system involves the use of hardware keys to prevent software piracy. The key is an additional security device that attaches to the computer's serial ports or a printer and unlocks software products designed to work only with the key.

Other evolving electronic technologies are mobile-based. The consumer can verify the authenticity of a product by sending a verification code using his mobile phone to the manufacturer's phone. The product comes with an attached scratch card.

Real or Fake

Once the card is scratched, a one-time code is revealed and the customer sends the code as a text message to a toll-free number and receives a back message indicating whether the product is real or fake.

Biotechnology-The breakthrough in biotechnology has increased the understanding of unique traits of biological proteins such as enzymes, DNA and antibodies. Identifying certain chemical structures and their capacity to make specific reactions have made biotechnology an important field in combating substandard and counterfeit trade, more so in the pharmaceuticals and drug sectors.

The leading technology in this category is the development of monoclonal antibodies that recognizes antigens or marker chemicals. The maker chemicals are added to products such as liquor and pharmaceutical in tiny concentrations. These are detected by kit with specific antibodies.

Break the Code

The advantage of this ant counterfeiting technology is that it is part of the product itself. Besides, no one can break the code since the makers' concentrations are too low to be detected through conventional methods. Also, the makers are masked with other chemicals.

Chemical technologies -In the chemical field, the technologies available include photochromic and thermochromic inks. These inks are applied to the product packaging and labels. When exposed to heat or light, these inks change color and revert to the original color once exposed again.

Other inks are invisible to naked eyes, but there are readable by barcode scanners. These are mainly used in the pharmaceutical and fragrance industries for authenticating purposes.

Microscopic Tag

Plastic tags are the other technology. This technology was initially developed for tracking and marking explosives. By incorporating this microscopic tag into bulk explosives, one can identify the origin of the explosive before and after use.

The microscope tag cannot be destroyed and is constructed of ten different colored layers. The color sequence has 34 unique codes of the tag where the total number of possible codes rages up to five billion. The tags are applied to both products and packing in various ways, such as incorporating a clear varnish.

Application of any of the above technologies depends on a number of factors like the cost of the product, the packaging and how easily customers can authenticate.

The writer is the Managing Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).