Traceability and origin of meat, widespread fraud in France

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France is a model in Europe for transparency of consumer information on food products. It was the first country to introduce the NutriScore, which is of great use in encouraging the choice of foods with balanced nutritional profiles. And to prescribe the origin of meat at restaurants (where about half of consumption takes place), as well as on the labels of products containing it (e.g., cured meats, meat sauce).

But it is precisely on traceability and declaration of origin of meat that France has flopped. Indeed, official public inspections carried out in 2018 reveal widespread irregularities and fraud, which include the presentation of foreign meat as French. A Pandora’s box is opened on animal health and food safety in the European Union.

Meat traceability and origin, EU rules

The European legislature, following the ‘mad cow’ scandal, introduced a strict regime in the beef cattle supply chain to ensure food safety:

– traceability with a ‘passport’ system, which involves the transmission of all animal information at every stage of the supply-chain. From farm to shelf(from stable to table), via slaughterhouses and processing industries,

– origin labeling specifying countries of birth, rearing and slaughter (EC reg. 1760, 1825/2000). (1)

Regulation (EU) 1337/2013 then extended mandatory origin labeling to meat of the pig, poultry, sheep and goat species. Effective 1.1.15, with a more tenuous regime than that established for beef. The labeling of such meat, in particular, does not include a requirement to report the country of birth of the animals (merely prescribing the countries of rearing and slaughter).

Origin of meat, additional rules in France

As early as 2002, the French legislature introduced a requirement to indicate the origin of meat in restaurants and brasseries, canteens and public establishments. And it is to that example that the Italia Zootecnia Consortium and our website GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade) have referred, to ask the various ministers of agriculture to do the same in Italy.

Then in 2016, the government in Paris introducedmandatory origin labeling for milk and meat used as ingredients in other processed products on an experimental basis. Effective until December 2021.

In 2020, France completed Operation Transparency by extending the requirement to indicate origin at the restaurant to include pork, poultry, sheep and goat meat.

Made in France agribusiness then found further general support in the voluntary labeling schemes introduced by French large-scale retail (GDO) chains. Such as the Franco-score from Intermarché and the declaration of origin or provenance of all raw materials, from Leclerc.

Traceability and origin of meat in France, Pandora’s box

Pandora’s box was opened as a result of 2,000 official public inspection activities conducted in 2018 by the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Repression (DGCCRF) in large and medium-sized stores, butcher stores, slaughterhouses and other establishments selling meat. In fact, Que Choisir, France’s premier consumer association, reports that in 1 in 3 cases public inspectors found noncompliance with legal requirements. (1)

The irregularities detected involve the ‘Frenching’ of meat from abroad and the misuse of quality marks. As well as gaps in traceability, found in 40 percent of the inspected establishments. The most frequent frauds are related to the origin of veal.

Animal health and food safety issues

The French case is far more serious than it may appear. Since the shortage and falsification of documents related to traceability are first and foremost a serious risk to the control of zoonoses, the assurance of animal health in different territories and the management of food safety in critical cases.

Thus, the food fraud in question has relevance from veterinary and public health perspectives, as well as from a commercial perspective. And there is no doubt that a good portion of the hundreds of incidents involved a plurality of member states from which animals, half-carcasses and meat came.

The French government has thus failed in its duty to notify the European Commission and other member states of the outcome of the investigation in a timely manner through the Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed(RASFF). As instead prescribed by the General Food Law (EC Reg. 178/02) and implementing regulations. (2)

This brings up, for the umpteenth time, the still unresolved problem of food fraud in the EU. There are several issues to be addressed, as shared above. And Brussels’ starvation threatens to throw entire supply chains into crisis due to the unpunished irresponsibility of, among others, some national governments.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) V. Elsa Abdoun, Viande. Un tiers présente des défauts de traçabilité. Que Choisir, 2020 https://www.quechoisir.org/actualite-viande-un-tiers-presente-des-defauts-de-tracabilite-n82271/

(2) For more on traceability, risk management and early warning system, see the freeebookFood Safety, Mandatory Rules and Voluntary Standards,’ at https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/libri/sicurezza-alimentare-regole-cogenti-e-norme-volontarie-il-nuovo-libro-di-dario-dongo

 

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.