On March 13, 2018 the European Commission has submitted to the Parliament the new Knowledge Center for Food Fraud and Quality. Following, initial reports and perplexities.
Preamble, food fraud in the EU
The European legislation is the most advanced on the planet, when it comes to food safety. Its structural reform, started with the White Paper on food safety (2.12.00), has marked a quantum leap towards the objectives laid down. (1)
Nonetheless, the food safety crisis of the recent years, within the internal market, have shown the inability of the European system to deal with widespread critical situations. Especially when arisen from criminal activity.
This sector needs integration and new rules. To avoid a recurrence on international crisis like Fipronil in eggs, Hepatitis E in sausages, salmonella in baby formula.
The Juncker Commission however proposes to address the issue with a ‘cultural’ approach. Through the help of Tibor Navracsics – EU Commissioner for for Education and Culture, youth and sports – instead of Vytenis Andriukaitis (whose competence regards Health and Food Safety).
The Knowledge Center for Food Fraud and Quality
The Knowledge Center for Food Fraud and Quality is established within the JRC (Joint Research Center), under the responsibility of the EU Commissioner for Education and Culture. (2)
The Knowledge Center for food fraud and quality should:
• ‘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, (3)
• 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’.
The Knowledge Center for Food Fraud and Quality ‘will produce newsletters, interactive maps, databases and regular reports and will make this information publicly accessible’. (4)
Information and culture, science translated in simple language for common citizens, all good. But it’s not enough. The same early warning system that has been mentioned must be based on a legislative act where to define Member States’ responsibility to promptly notify alerts.
Food fraud in the EU, the missing rules
To counteract food fraud in the EU, as we have already stressed https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/fipronil-e-frodi-in-ue-il-bluff, new rules are needed. Specifically:
- notion of fraud. The premise to fight a problem is to pin it from a legal standpoint. Hence a definition of food fraud, to be harmonized at EU level, is firstly needed. Member States shall agree on its criminal punishment, in line with other organized crime activities. It won’t be possible, otherwise, to empower the police forces with the investigation and international cooperation duties suited to the objectives,
- criminal police. The European legislator should extend the duties of OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office) and define the parameters of efficiency and effectiveness of controls and repressive actions. Specific training programs and audits ought to be included,
- sanctions. The main penalties, fines and imprisonment, must be backed up by ancillary sanctions to inhibit relapses. Including the confiscation of businesses and assets. The convicted of fraud must be registered on a public European database and banned from any further activity in the food and feed sector,
- name & shame. The names of all businesses and their legal representatives, but also those of the consulting firms and certifying bodies involved in a food crime must be made public on online records accessible to the public. Starting from the notification within the Rasff system (Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed),
- international cooperation. Strict deadlines by which MS must notify alerts in the Rasff system must be laid down. Every day of must lead to the automatic application of exemplary sanctions borne by the Member State that results accountable (to avoid the grotesque repetition in delay, as the Fipronil textbook-case).
For further insights, please consult our free e-book ‘Food Safety, mandatory rules and voluntary standards’.
(1) Refer to the General Food Law (Regulation EC No. 178/02) and the Hygiene Package (Reg. EC 852–853–854/04 and subsequent, lastly https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/controlli-il-ruolo-dellamministrazione-sanitaria/)
(2) The JRC Knowledge Centers activities – already dedicated to land policy, migration and demography, disaster risk management, bioeconomy -are summarized on https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/jrc_paper-eu-policy-making-based-on-facts.pdf
(3) Dual Quality Foods, to which extensive meeting were devoted on in Brussels, just last week
(4) So the original press release states, only yesterday incorporated with a few extra pointers and the involvement of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vêrá Jourová. On http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-1744_en.htm
Dario Dongo, avvocato e giornalista, PhD in diritto alimentare internazionale, fondatore di WIISE (FARE - GIFT – Food Times) ed Égalité.