Recent food fraud cases, including the sale of horse meat as beef, should prompt the EU to review the functioning of the food production chain, step up checks and revise labelling legislation, says a non-legislative resolution approved on Tuesday.
The European Parliament voices concern at the growth in food fraud, which it says exploits structural weaknesses in the production chain. MEPs argue that food fraud risks are aggravated by the complexity and cross-frontier nature of this chain, coupled with the essentially national nature of inspections, penalties and enforcement measures.
“The first problem is a lack of comparable data, which means that it is difficult to get an exact picture of the problem. (…) However, we know that we are talking about billions of euros here. Organised crime is clearly getting interested in this ” said rapporteur Esther De Lange (EPP, NL).
“Unlike the US, the European Union still has no common definition of ‘food fraud’, which has long been a blind spot of European institutions. Food fraud cases are the rotten apples that spoil matters for all those farmers, intermediaries and individuals who do respect the rules and destroy consumer confidence in food and food information” she added. Her own-initiative report was approved by 659 votes to 24, with 8 abstentions.
The text calls for an EU-wide harmonised definition of food fraud and calls on the European Commission to strengthen the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), which carries out inspections. It also calls for the establishment of a European network to combat food fraud and proposes that DNA tests should be used more widely, to eliminate any species fraud.
MEPs call for more thorough inspections of frozen foodstuffs and for a draft law to make labelling mandatory for meat and fish. Traceability would be improved by making it mandatory to state the country of origin, they observe, including for all meat-based processed products.
MEPs consider that EU member states should fix food fraud penalties of at least twice the estimated economic gain sought by the fraudster, and criminal law penalties for cases in which fraud endangers public health.
Recent food fraud cases include horse meat sold as beef, road salt sold as food salt, the use of alcohol containing methanol in spirits, dioxin-contaminated fats discovered in animal feed, labels that state the wrong species of fish and the mislabelling of seafood, MEPs note.