Fipronil and fraud in EU, the bluff

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‘Commission and member states agree on concrete measures against food fraud‘. Thus falsely headlines the Brussels press release. Bluff. As a result of the ‘high-level meeting’ on September 26, 2017, dedicated to Fipronil. (1)

A case study, Fipronil – Amitraz. If the acaricides in question were truly toxic to humans, they would have caused more deaths than the Great War. Because of the ministers of Belgium and Holland, who concealed the crisis rather than communicating it, and an incompetent commissioner. Who waited two months before holding a useful meeting for nothing, when it was too late.

Food fraud, the bluff of Andriukaitis

Commissioner Andriukaitis thus welcomes having agreed on’19 concrete measures that will strengthen EU action against food fraud‘. Lie, bluff! 19 are just the paragraphs of a short paper summarizing the situation and theorizing about how things can be improved, with some thoughts. Not a legislative hypothesis but just the fine-tuning of some procedures. (2) And the idea of creating new jobs. Not a million but one, or maybe 27,‘food safety officers.’

Small detail, the Commission also failed to introduce a legal definition of food fraud. He had tried this, entrusting the task to a contractor, but the attempt failed. And that is where you have to start if you really want to address the problem.

Food fraud, the issues to be addressed

Food fraud must be tackled at the European level with seriousness and determination. The repeatedly reported gaps, which punctually resurface every time, need to be filled. In summary:

definition of fraud. It is necessary to describe the material fact of the crime that each member state must punish with criminal sanction. Provide an illustrative but not exhaustive list of the conduct that integrates food fraud in the different parts of the supply chain, including public and private controllers as well as consultants. (3) None excluded, from farm to fork,

sanctions. The general criteria of effectiveness and deterrence of penalties provided in the new regulation on official public controls are not enough. (4) Fraudulent activities in the food supply chain are currently punished in some member states with criminal penalties and in others with administrative penalties. The imprisonment penalty should come in the entire Internal Market, and be accompanied by ancillary penalties designed to inhibit recidivism, (5)

Control and fraud suppression systems. The effectiveness and deterrence of punishment is in any case linked to the effectiveness of investigative and judicial systems, which in the Fipronil case-as in others-have shown the ropes. Therefore, standards of control and enforcement efficiency must be established, to be audited periodically by the European Commission (including, but not limited to, through the support of the Food and Veterinary Office, FVO),

international cooperation. Diplomacy is not enough to point out the omissions of members of theRapid Alert System on Food and Feed (RASFF). The General Food Law (6) must in turn be reformed, introducing infringement procedures similar to those established for violations of budget criteria defined in the Eurozone. Otherwise, it cannot be ensured that nationalistic interests of covering supply chains will prevail over common goals of protecting food safety and public health,

judicial police. The European fraud prevention system-historically attributed to OLAF, which over the decades has helped mitigate fraud under the Common Agricultural Policy-needs to be strengthened. Through extension of attributions, capacity building at EU and national levels, training and refresher programs, European coordination and international linkages. On these aspects, Italy with the Nucleo Anti-Sofisticazioni (NAS) of the Carabinieri Corps has something to teach, and put to common use.

Soft law, so beloved of global food chain pirates, has had its day. And its disasters. It is time to turn over a new leaf for the preservation of the first manufacturing system on the old continent. For more on the topic, we suggest reading ‘Food Safety, Between Mandatory Rules and Voluntary Standards’

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) SEE http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-3486_en.htm

(2) The only two passages of even minimal significance are cited. Verbatim:

‘bringing the gap between the use of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and of the Administrative and Cooperation (AAC) systems‘ (item 11),

‘jeopardise potential criminal proceedings, to enable a rapid transfer of information, at Member State level between judicial authorities and public health authorities, and at Commission level between EUROJUST, EUROPOL and the RASFF-AAC-Food Fraud networks‘ (para. 19).

(3) Consultants by the way, unlike supply chain operators (see EC reg. 852, 853/04) are still today freed from a unitary system of registration and/or authorization. In the variety of professions and degrees, another problem that also needs to be addressed from the not insignificant perspective of education

(4) ‘Infringements of the rules contained in Union legislation on the food supply chain and in this Regulation should be punished with effective, dissuasive and proportionate sanctions at the national level throughout the Union, the severity of which takes into account, among other things, the potential damage to human health (…). In order for the financial penalties applicable to regulatory infractions committed through fraudulent or deceptive practices to be sufficiently deterrent, they should be set at a level possibly higher than the undue advantage that the perpetrator would gain from such practices.‘ (EU reg. 625/17, Recital 90. See also Article 139)

(5) Injunctive measures are needed-temporary and permanent, to be extended to natural and legal persons-as well as a European public domain registry, capable of realizing the so-called name & shame

(6) See reg. EC 178/02