Bigger fines for food fraud

THE EUROPEAN Commission wants to impose “truly dissuasive” fines in a bid to combat food fraud.


The proposal is part of a package of food safety measures published this week.


Health commissioner Tonio Borg said the package would simplify the rules for safer food, but also strengthen them. The changes come at an “opportune moment” in light of the horse meat scandal, he said.


“The agri-food industry is the second largest economic sector in the EU, employing over 48 million people and is worth some 750 billion a year,” Borg explained.


“Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world. However, the recent horse meat scandal has shown that there is room for improvement, even if no health risk emerged.”


The current body of EU legislation covering the food chain consists of almost 70 pieces of legislation. The new package of reform will cut this down to just five and will also reduce the red-tape on processes and procedures for farmers, breeders and food business operators (producers, processors and distributors).


However, it will also ensure a more risk-based approach and could lead to more unannounced inspections and DNA testing of products.


The changes come in the wake of the horse meat scandal, from which lessons have been learned – the UK is in the process of reviewing its responses to the scandal and the next steps to take.


Last month, experts gathered in York for a food safety conference organised by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). Speaking at the event, which is covered in May’s Footprint, Lindsay Harris from the food standards unit at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said there are systems for identifying cases of food fraud but they are based on intelligence; as such, they are only as good as that intelligence. “This [scandal] was a failure in intelligence,” he added.


The Food Standards Agency also explained how horse meat was not on the radar. Sainsbury’s head of quality, safety and supplier performance, Alec Kyriakides, also admitted that the scandal was down to “a lack of insight”.


Kyriakides said he’d pay “a lot of money” for technologies that “find what I didn’t know I needed to look for”. However, Harris said DEFRA had a small budget for developing the tests required, but it is considering where to go next and what the focus of that budget should now be.