Fipronil eggs, reflections on yet another food fraud in Europe

0
14

Fipronil eggs, yet another food fraud in Europe worth thinking about. Four years after Horsegate (1) and a few months after Carne Fraca. The European regulation on official public controls has been updated, but the system once again proves ineffective. Let’s see why.

Tons of eggs contaminated with Fipronil-an insecticide allowed in the treatment of domestic animals but not those destined to enter the food chain because it is incompatible with human health-were produced in the Netherlands and spread throughout the continent, including England.

The fraud script is always the same. A handful of crooks use a banned substance–as dangerous–to save on the cost of producing food, which, due to its advantageous price, finds wide distribution in the market. Particularly in the Business to Business, B2B channel, where self-control should be particularly strict and instead gives way to the logic of unscrupulous profit.

Official public controls in the countries where the crisis arose have proved wholly unsuitable. This was compounded by the willfulness of the authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands, who waited until July 20, 2017, to notify the other member states of news about the affair that had been known to them since early June. And only after the food safety crisis flared up in the Internal Market did as many as 180 poultry farms in the Netherlands have been closed by order of local authorities.

Are you all right? An understatement. The system of European rules established in the wake of the BSE (‘mad cow’) crisis has once again proven ineffective. Dangerous eggs have reached the shelves in at least 15 member states, in the form of egg products made into mayonnaise and other sauces, cakes and pancakes. And attempts by national authorities to reassure consumers of the ‘near-absence’ of danger to consumers do not withstand the force of the shock. Once again, trust in individual supply chains and the system as a whole is compromised.

The time has come for a change of course. For the Commissioner-the same one who in more than a year since the genotoxic and carcinogenic risk on palm oil emerged has done nothing-it is time to resign. As proof of his unsuitability for the job, he called a meeting on Fipronil on September 26, more than two months after the food safety crisis was reported! Instead, the president of the Commission, in temporarily taking over, should summon the leadership of the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) to demand accountability for the audits conducted in the Netherlands and Belgium, whose public authorities have primary responsibility for this crisis.

Penalties. For at least a dozen years now (2) we have been waiting for an alignment of the sanction regimes in vogue in the various member states, all of which should already have adopted effective and deterrent sanctions against food fraud. Which in some countries like Italy are punished as criminal acts, in others subject to laughable administrative penalties. But the European Commission, which was supposed to provide monitoring and recommendations, has so far been absconding. The new commissioner will have to pick up the threads of that as well.

eggs-al-fipronil


Name & Shame
. The dutiful next step is to publish the names of all the companies and their managers, as well as the intermediaries who, according to script, organized the pan-European triangulation of dangerous goods. (3) Food fraud perpetrators, and their accomplices, must be identified in a European registry and banned from engaging in any activity in the food and feed chain.

The connivance of certification bodies should also be sanctioned. In a Europe that tends to streamline official public controls by placing increasing reliance on certification of food safety schemes, (4) fraud of this magnitude cannot and should not go unnoticed by private inspectors. As was the case in England, the home of the BRC certification scheme, where at-risk eggs reached the shelves of all mass retail players.

The location of the production facility should be prescribed as mandatory on the labels of all foods produced in the EU. To pragmatically and transparently strengthen food traceability, (5) and reduce the risk of widespread repercussions of food crises on national supply chains that have remained unscathed. For too many times in recent years the virtuous productions of individual member countries have paid the damages associated with consumer distrust because of crimes committed elsewhere. That’s enough!

For more on the subject, we suggest reading Food Safety, Between Mandatory Rules and Voluntary Standards.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) The scandal of horse meat being fed into the European food chain, Italy excluded, as a fraudulent substitute for beef

(2) See reg. EC 178/02 and reg. EC 882/04 (the latter repealed by the subsequent EU reg. 2017/625)

(3) In the scandal under review, according to initial reports, Fipronil was allegedly purchased in Romania from a Belgian company, which supplied it as early as 2016 to a Dutch industrial farm, which sold millions of eggs to processing companies in Germany, England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Romania, Luxembourg, Switzerland

(4) The fateful Food Safety Management Systems, such as FSCC 22000, BRC, IFS, etc.

(5) Food and feed traceability has been defined, in terms that now seem overly general, in Article 18 of Reg. EC 178/02, so-called General Food Law