Safe, wholesome food and its free movement is an essential aspect of the internal market.
This contributes significantly to the health and well-being of citizens and to their social and economic interests.
EU policies to prevent and detect food fraud make an important contribution in pursuit of this responsibility.
The prevalence of food fraud can be explained by the complex nature of our globalised food supply chains and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products.
The costs related to food fraud for the global food industry have been estimated at around EUR 30 billion every year, threatening the proper functioning of the internal market.
Fraudulent practices in the food sector may also lead to public health risks. Here are a few examples that have drawn worldwide attention:
- 1981, Spain: the "rapeseed oil" fraud intended for industrial use affected about 20.000 people and led to between 370 and 835 deaths in Spain
- 1999, Belgium: dioxin found in food resulted in massive economic losses
- 2008, China: milk and infant formula adulterated with melamine resulted in more than 50.000 sick babies and around six fatalities
- 2012-2014, Czechia and Poland: methanol poisoning from the sale of illegal spirits causing around 59 casualties
- 2013: horse meat in beef products
- 2017: fipronil in eggs
Faced with this phenomenon, control authorities are losing credibility, companies are losing money and consumers are losing trust in food.
This creates a major paradox: "EU food is safer than ever, yet consumer's trust is low".
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, the European Parliament's 2013 resolution called on the Commission "to give food fraud the full attention it warrants and to take all necessary steps to make the prevention and combating of food fraud an integral part of EU policy".
The Italian Presidency Conference on Food Fraud (2014) and the Ministerial Conference on fipronil (2017) have reached similar conclusions.
The measures included a commitment to improve interaction between the Rapid Alert System For Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) system, namely the creation of common contact points. The EU re-shaped its agri-food chain official control policies in order to increase its overall efficiency and promote citizen's trust.
As stated in its communication "The Single Market: Europe's best asset in a changing world", the Commission continues to believe that "the protection of consumers against fraudulent practices by unethical businesses is a challenge that requires increased cross-border cooperation among administrations".
Addressing fraud should not only be about crisis management but also about being proactive in prevention, detection and exchanging of information between operators and authorities.