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Mislabelling dominates Food Fraud Network cases

By Joe Whitworth+

18-May-2017
Last updated on 18-May-2017 at 14:07 GMT2017-05-18T14:07:38Z

Mislabelling composition was the main area of concern for food fraud cases. ©iStock/Anetlanda
Mislabelling composition was the main area of concern for food fraud cases. ©iStock/Anetlanda

Mislabelling composition dominated cases in the EU Food Fraud Network (FFN), according to the 2016 annual report.

Meat and meat products (other than poultry) was the top category followed by fish products, fats and oils and poultry meat products.

The Commission said compared to 2015 the complexity of cases has increased.

“Cases have more detailed information and Member States are feeling more and more comfortable with the system. Overall there is a positive trend in the way cases are developing and the types of cross-border non-compliances the AAC is used for.”

From November 2015 an IT application known as the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AAC) has handled non-compliances within the scope of Official Controls.

In 2015 alleged violations were related to labelling non-compliance at 36% (mostly with regard to ingredient mislabelling).

Success stories

Example cases last year include Lebanon as the subject of four RASFF notifications in 2016 concerning presence of unauthorised chemicals (Rhodamine-B, a chemical dye banned in the EU for food and feed) in pickled turnips.

Alleged fraudulent activity was either replacing or enhancing the colouring properties of beet roots, used to give the red/pink colour to the pickled turnips.

©iStock/wideonet. Hazelnuts were involved in one case

Another incident was two Georgian companies exported ground roasted hazelnuts to the EU adulterated with peanuts (15% to 22%).

It was discovered due to a consumer complaint in Germany after an allergic reaction to peanuts.

Strengthened controls on the EU hazelnut flour markets found similar types of contamination (e.g. in hazelnut cream).

A Georgian citizen was charged with falsification of hazelnut products and faces two to four years in prison.

Increase in cases

The Commission said all Member States are using the system albeit with ‘different intensity’.

A total 243 of cases were exchanged in the AAC in 2016, with a significant increase in the third quarter.

“The results are definitely better than expected, considering that most of the training in Member States was done in the last months of 2016 and that the implementation started in January 2017. 

In 2016 the number of cases significantly increased and for the second quarter of 2017 we expect to double the number of cases. Of course this doesn't mean that there are more non-compliances or frauds; the higher number of cases is just an indicator of an increased cooperation between Member States.

Eric Marin from DG Sante told Food Integrity conference attendees that preliminary results for January to April this year show 93 AAC AA and 35 AAC FF cases.

The system was originally only for initial members of the FFN and in the second half of 2016 it was opened to other liaison bodies appointed to the network.

These organisations are designated within a Member State to assist and coordinate between competent authorities.

The AAC system is split with AAC FF (Food Fraud)dealing with non-compliances classified as fraudulent activities along the agri-food chain and AAC AA (Administrative Assistance) for any other non-compliance (AAC-AA).

AAC FF is accessed only by the EU Food Fraud Network but the AAC AA is for the general liaison bodies in charge of official controls - including the FFN.

Mislabelling composition cases dominate network

A total of 172 food fraud cases were exchanged, of which 161 concern food and 11 for feed. None concerned food contact materials.

©iStock/branex. Meat and meat products was the top category of cases

Cases in the AAC FF can be classified according to one or more alleged violations and by product type and categories.

Mislabelling composition dominated cases with 42, the next highest being ingredient replacement with 11 and addition of undeclared substance and use of falsified documentation with nine cases each.

Mislabelling could or could not have a fraudulent nature, said the Commission.

“In its non-fraudulent version, an example could be the wrong indication of ingredients, without a fraudulent intent (e.g. no economic gain), whereas the fraudulent version could consist in the wrong indication of the quantities of certain expensive ingredients (e.g. contains 50g of truffles whereas in reality the product contains only 5g of it).”

Meat and meat products (other than poultry) was the top category with 28 cases, followed by fish and fish products (22 cases), fats and oils (20) and poultry meat and poultry meat products (19).

The network was created in response to the horse meat crisis. It consists of 28 national contact points in the Member States, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland and the European Commission.

Dietetic foods, supplements top AAC-AA case category

A total of 87 administrative assistance cases were reported, 82 involving food and five concerned with feed.

Dietetic foods, supplements were involved most in administrative assistance cases

Cases in the AAC AA are classified according to one or more non-compliances and by product type and categories.

‘Other’ unapproved treatments and processes topped the list with 23, mislabelling composition (21 cases), ‘other’ documents (17) and exceedance of maximum levels (11).

An example of ‘other’ unapproved treatments was given as the fraudulent process used to alter the colour of green olives.

However, the category allows Member States to use a different type of classification when none of the others are suitable (which is then explained in the case details).

Exceedance of maximum levels is presence of pesticides above the MRL but not high enough to justify a RASFF notification because there is no evidence of a public health risk.

Dietetic foods, supplements topped the list by product category (16 cases), fish and fish products (nine) and milk and fruit and vegetables and milk products (with eight each).

Voluntary and for cross-border issues

The AAC is voluntary and only for cross-border non-compliances so does not include national level cases.

Issues include absence of percentages characters, complexity of requests/responses and reminders and deadlines for answering, according to Member States.

The Commission said development of the AAC has been put on standby due to upcoming integration within the information management system for official controls (IMSOC).

It said the absence of percentage characters is for security reasons, to avoid SQL injection and other hacking.

Complexity of requests/responses was due to a generalized unfamiliarity with the system which has improved with training and reminders and deadlines are done manually by the Commission.

The Commission said Member States often request their counterparts to carry out inspections.

“Another important element consists in the time that passes from a request to a response: this has considerably improved going from three to four months in 2015 and early 2016 to one month in average in Q4 of 2016.”

The last meeting of the network was earlier this month and the next one has not been planned yet.

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