Food fraud targeted in EU clamp-down
Awareness about food fraud has risen ever since the horse meat scandal in 2013 – yet the number of food fraud cases continues to increase at alarming rates, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first vice-president of the EU Parliament said earlier today (Tuesday, March 13).
McGuinness made the comments as the European Commission launches an important counter-measure – the Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality.
The MEP said this is an important initiative that will help in the fight against an age old crime, by bringing together experts to share scientific knowledge and better inform the public of cases of food fraud.
Food fraud is a serious health concern, particularly for the young and the elderly, pregnant women and those who suffer from allergies.
“Food safety is one aspect, but another is misrepresentation, like adding sugar to honey – which may not be harming our health, but is ripping us off,” she said.
Fraudsters are out to make easy money from adulterating food stuffs, she said. Some ploys include selling road salt as table salt, selling frozen fish as fresh, labelling grasses as herbs etc.
“Today’s food supply chain is longer, more complicated and more global, with many opportunities for fraudsters to profit through mislabelling, using cheaper and sub-standard ingredients and worse still, placing unsafe food on the market,” McGuinness added.
The MEP said additional steps are also needed to strengthen cooperation between regulators and police forces to tackle the crime of food fraud. “This cooperation will be key to the effectiveness of new food regulations that take effect next year,” she said.
“We need systems that are absolutely rigorous to close gaps that allow food fraud to occur. We know that food fads and trends are more likely to be susceptible to food crime.
“For example, many shipments of coconut water to the UK were found by authorities not to be the authentic product, but instead a concoction of chemicals and additives.”
It is critical that regulation is enforced and fraudsters penalised sufficiently, McGuinness added.
“Ireland is proud of its high-quality food production and it is vital we maintain this positive image on which many of our jobs at home depend upon – on the farm, in factories and in shops.”
- Coordinate market surveillance activities, for example on the composition and sensory properties of food offered under the same packaging and branding on several markets across the EU;
- Operate an early warning and information system for food fraud, for instance, through media monitoring and providing this information to the general public;
- Link information systems of member states and the Commission, such as databases describing the composition of certain high value agri-food products – such as wine or olive oil;
- Generate country-specific knowledge; for example by mapping the competencies and laboratory infrastructures in member states.
McGuinness said Brexit poses a potentially new challenge around food authenticity, not just on the island of Ireland, but between the EU and the UK.
“We need the UK to stay within the EU food regulatory system. If a divergence emerges between the EU regulatory system and the UK, there is a real risk that food fraud could escalate and standards drop,” she warned.