Food Fraud

As new revelations surrounding the horsemeat DNA scandal continue to emerge across Europe, an EU wide investigation has been announced. This is a very definite case of food fraud. I wrote to the Commission asking for an EU wide response and I am glad to say that we now have this response.

Mairead is pictured with Paolo De Castro, Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development

I welcome the Commission’s decision to roll out a series of tests, involving random DNA testing of processed beef products and for the detection of phenylbutazone (bute) residues in abattoirs. Europol is tasked with leading and coordinating the investigation which seems to reach all across Europe.

The EU will pay 75pc of the costs. Interesting that the member states would not fund all of the costs, yet they chose to cut the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period!

The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, attended a meeting of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee yesterday.

We need to tighten up the horse passport system which is fragmented. We need a system which provides traceability for horse meat in the same way as the system for beef animals operates, and it must be an EU wide system.

Secondly, we need clarity from each member state what the remit of the national food safety agency is. The Irish model of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) works very effectively in highlighting issues of concern to consumers, but not all Member States operate in the same way and this needs to be rectified. Are Member States putting sufficient resources into tackling food fraud?

We must not forget that this is a case of serious crime – it may go down in history as one of the most prolific food fraud cases to hit Europe.

We need to stringently deal with the criminals involved, put effective measures in place to prevent future instances and then begin to repair the damage it has caused to the food industry.

However the issue of food fraud also needs an industry response. Long established and large food companies and retailers have been caught up in the debacle. They appear to be victims in this fraud, but they must play an active part in the solution to this issue.

I told the Commissioner that he should not waste the opportunity provided by the crisis and examine and reform the broken food supply chain, which is too long and too fragmented.

Food companies and retailers have an important part to play in examining their supply chains and reducing unnecessary weak links. There is also an opportunity to review these issues as part of the EU Action Plan for the Food Retail sector.

I warned that the EU is in danger of treating the symptoms but not the cause of food fraud as exemplified by the horsemeat scandal.

There is an opportunity to deal with the underlying failures of the food supply chain.

In the European Retail Action Plan, recently adopted by the Commission, one of the key priorities identified is actions to ensure fairer and more sustainable trading relationships along the food supply chain.

The length of the food supply chain is a matter of great concern and is not sustainable.

We have ever greater pressures from retailers for lower cost food products. The major food processors and retailers have tremendous power and influence on what happens in the food supply chain.

They have a huge responsibility to establish sustainable relationships with producers in the supply chain, yet what we have discovered is that they do not actually know all of the links in their own supply chain and therefore cannot give consumers any guarantees of the authenticity of food.

It is also deeply unfair to farmers who ultimately carry the cost of consumer loss of confidence in food products where scandals occur.

I called on the Commission not to waste this crisis and to look in detail at the fractured food supply chain and propose measures to mend it.

This means tackling the length of the chain and the number of operators pulling out of it. It is also time to put greater responsibility onto retailers to verify and authenticate their suppliers.

This week the European Economic and Social Committee called for action to ensure fair competition in the retail sector.

The EESC are concerned that the current practices by major retailers are bad for the Agri-food sector.

The report identified that breech of contract by major retailers is rampant. In 2009 84% of EU suppliers to large retailers were victims of a breech of contract; 77% were threatened with delisting; 63% saw reductions in invoice prices and 60% were forced to make payments for which they received nothing in return.

These facts underline the need for a forensic examination of the food supply chain and the need to restore balance in the chain.

The risk is that the EU will see the horsemeat scandal as an isolated incident, rather than looking at it as a systemic problem caused by a broken food supply chain which is not in the interests of consumers or producers.

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