EU food fraud alert tool to be rolled out early next year

By Hanna Lange-Chenier

- Last updated on GMT

The new tool would be similar to the EU's RASFF which shares food safety alerts between member states
The new tool would be similar to the EU's RASFF which shares food safety alerts between member states

Related tags: Food fraud, European union, Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry

A new food fraud alert tool should be deployed early next year, to work alongside other new strategies to help prevent crimes such as the horsemeat mislabelling scandal, officials from the European Commission’s directorate general for health and consumers (DG SANCO) announced on 23rd October at a European Union (EU) Food Fraud Conference in Rome.

"We have come to a stage where quality, destination of origin, and information about the origin – we have seen that in the scandal about horsemeat – are of overarching importance. And consumers expect us to give them truthful information and packaging,"​ said Eric Poudelet, DG SANCO’s food chain safety director.

The creation of the tool, similar to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), which shares food safety alerts between member states, was announced in June by the EC as a direct response to the horsemeat mislabelling crisis, which saw meat labelled as beef or pork mixed with horsemeat.

"Work is quite advanced to be honest, so we hope to test this IT tool with the member states at the beginning of next year,"​ said Carmen Garau, head of enforcement at DG SANCO’s food chain branch. "It will also enable the Commission to start looking at the patterns that develop through these exchanges, to see what cases are of relevance at EU level, to see patterns, to do some analysis of the cases,"​ she said.

Garau said the tool would initially be released to border agencies engaged in food fraud administration and cooperation, and will initially only be used for food fraud cases, although she noted it could be used in the future to track non-fraud food regulatory violations.

Secondly, coordinated control plans, used for the first time during last year’s scandal, were "something we plan to use and we intend to use regularly in this area"​ to prevent food fraud, Garau added. The aim of these plans, she explained, was to comprehensively assess a problem, such as the mislabelling of beef.

This could deter food fraudsters, who would note "that we are capable of coordinating among each other a certain, very precise and surgical type of control".​ Such controls also enabled longer-term monitoring: "[They] reassure ourselves that, over time, maybe what was found to be a problem in 2013 is much less of a problem in 2014,"​ said Garau, citing the second DNA tests on beef for horse content carried out this year.

Meanwhile, the conference also heard how the Commission planned to promote better training for food inspectors and law enforcement agencies.

The key to effective alert information is cooperation between government and the food industry, and making smart policy decisions, said Glenn Taylor, head of the scientific service at Britain’s Hampshire County Council.

"The bit we really want from the food industry is their knowledge… how they can ask the right questions,"​ he noted.

He added that government regulators may have to cope with tighter budgets in future: "The biggest challenge is not that there will be less money, but how smart we can get working with the resources we’ve got, how intelligent we can be and whether we can make that actionable intelligence."

Related topics: Meat

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