A report calling for stronger policing of the food industry and tougher penalties for fraud has been backed by an EU committee.
The Environment and Food Safety Committee of the European Parliament voted to approve the draft report from MEP Esther de Lange.
The draft report identified olive oil, fish, organic foods, milk and grains as the top five products most at risk of food fraud.
It called for a definition of what constitutes food fraud, an enhancement of the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO)’s role and resources in food fraud case and official controls for the problem.
Private initiatives to set up anti-fraud programmes should be encouraged and a legal obligation for food business operators to report to competent authorities of fraudulent behaviour could contribute to reveal more fraud cases in an early stage and limit the dangers to public health.
Attitudes of enforcement bodies should move to a policing approach, sanctions should be at least double the amount of the economic advances sought and registrations of food business operators should be withdrawn for repeated offenders, proposed the report.
The next step is getting the full parliament to approve the report early next year.
Ordinary goods marked as organic
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson welcomed the result of the vote in favour of the de Lange ‘Food Fraud’ report.
Anderson said: “Food fraud does not just occur in horsemeat being labelled as beef. I was shocked to learn of further examples including; marketing ordinary goods as ‘organic’, selling battery cage eggs as free-range and even road salt being used as food salt.
“It is unacceptable that the potential financial gain for those involved in food fraud is higher than the risk of apprehension and penalties do not present a sufficient deterrent.”
The risk of fraud is highest when the risk of getting caught is small and the potential economic gain is big, according to de Lange.
The complexity and cross-border character of the food chain, with the focus on food safety and the national character of controls and enforcement are often cited as contributing to a low risk of food fraud actually being detected.
Anderson said that producers and supermarkets selling meat must be accountable for the quality and standard of the food they sell.
“Included in the my amendments, was a call for increased transparency in the food chain and stronger point of origin labelling, including for meat used as an ingredient in ready meals or other processed meats.
“I was especially gratified to see that one of my amendments highlighting the existence and necessity of regional systems of labelling, such as the case in the North, was incorporated into this report and passed in the vote.
“It is important that producers here are entitled to label their produce as ‘Irish’ or ‘British’ if they so wish.”