In the wake of the horse meat scandal in February 2013, the Commission published a 5-point Action Plan to re-enforce the Member States controls of fraudulent practices in the food chain. Among these activities the Commission proposed to use coordinated control plans to better understand the extent of possible fraudulent activity in a certain sector and, if necessary, to propose harmonized sampling methods and analysis. Fishery and aquaculture products were identified by the Commission and Member State experts as a candidate for an EU coordinated control plan. The substitution of fish species has already been described by several European and non-European studies about fish-labelling accuracy, however with scopes limited to certain fish species and/or geographical areas and/or specific parts of the food supply chain.
The markets of white fish, including flat fish, in the EU are very important. Many earlier reports already confirmed a very dissatisfactory compliance rate for tuna and other pelagic species such as mackerel. No concluding data was available for white fish. Therefore it was more interesting to assess the prevalence on the market of mislabelled white fish.
As the main issue with salmon concerns substitution, in particular of aquaculture fish declared as wild caught, this aspect was not included in the testing plan since the testing protocol would have been much more complicated and a large majority (93%) of the Salmon on the EU market stems from aquaculture.
The declared species was confirmed in 94% of the samples taken. The overall non-compliance is lower than the levels of non-compliance in white fish in many other more limited testing programmes in EU Member States, although for certain species, notably Common sole (Solea solea) and Grouper (Epinephelus spp.), the levels are still quite high. Since the plan covered a much broader range of sampling locations than other plans and covered a very broad range of species, the overall results give a more accurate picture of the current situation concerning mislabelled fishery and aquaculture white fish on the market. Although BIPs, retail and mass caterers were the locations where non-compliances were detected most often, the level of non-compliance did not vary significantly between locations of sampling.
The overall non-compliance rate was at 6%, but the rate at Member State level varied quite a lot, from 0 – 27 %. It must be noted though that due to the fact that the samples were planned at EU level, some Member States sampled a very low number of products, contributing to uncertainty in the results when considering the rate of non-compliance at individual Member State level. Variations between Member States may also be due to other factors, like which species of fish are more popular on their market or the type of processing commonly used, but such conclusions are difficult to draw based on the available information in this plan.
There may be various reasons for the reported cases of incorrect identification of fish species. These may vary from cross-contamination due to badly cleaned equipment between production batches, to other bad management practices like lack of clear marking in storage rooms, lack of knowledge on species identification and finally to intentional fraudulent practices.
An important criterion to assess the presence of fraud is often the difference in price between the claimed and substitute species. Market prices for white fish vary from Member State to Member State and also in different periods of the year. Many Member States have reported that investigations are still ongoing. While investigating the non-compliances, Member States will take into consideration relevant information to assess whether the mislabelling is a result of intentional violations perpetrated with the purpose of financial gain, as opposed to just bad or ill-informed practices.
It is the Member States' responsibility and obligation to ensure that food business operators on their territory comply with EU harmonised requirements. When non-compliances are identified national authorities must take action to ensure that the operator remedies the situation. It is also up to Member States to apply penalties that are effective, proportionate and dissuasive. The Member States were asked to report on measures and penalties taken following the identification of non-compliant samples in this control plan.
The measures reported on included follow-up controls in the same establishment or related establishments, withdrawal from the market, requiring relabelling of the product, requiring corrective action at the food business operator, seizure of the product, destruction of products and warnings to the food business operator.
As to penalties, some fines had been given, but many reported that penalties are still pending.
In addition some Member States reported on the use of cross border cooperation to further investigate the cases.
Feed and food business operators, at all stages of production, processing and distribution within the businesses under their control, are responsible for ensuring that feed and food satisfy the requirements of feed and food law which are relevant to their activities. Member States have a better overview of the market practices within their territory and can better target their controls. On the basis of the results of this control plan that were obtained in their territory, or in other Member States for cross-border cases, Member States may decide to raise awareness amongst stakeholders and strengthen the controls at specific stages of the food chain.
The Commission has planned a series of fact-finding missions in Member States (1 in 2015 and 5 in 2016) in order to assess how national authorities perform official controls on labelling and traceability of fishery products. This is the first series of missions focussed specifically on labelling and traceability in fishery products along the food production chain and will cover different aspects of the current legislation (not only those related to fish species). An overview report summarising the most relevant findings and conclusions is expected in 2017.
In order to raise the awareness of stakeholders on the knowledge of the different fish species and assist in the interpretation of the rules on labelling of fishery and aquaculture products, the Commission will continue to make efforts to actively promote information through different tools, including those published on Commission websites. An example of such information is a Pocket Guide to the EU’s New Fish & Aquaculture Consumer Labels that gives useful and accurate information for understanding the rules in all EU languages.
The Commission has also already made available a portal where the commercial designation of the species and its scientific name in all Member States may be accessed. This system will be further improved in 2016.
Finally, the results also showed certain limitations in the testing methodology, and these issues should feed into ongoing and new research programmes for future development of methodology at the EC Joint Research Centre (JRC).
Unprocessed products are fresh, chilled or frozen fishery and aquaculture products that are whole, gutted, sliced, filleted or chopped.
Processed products are fishery and aquaculture products that have undergone a processing method like heating, smoking, curing, maturing, drying, marinating etc.
The EU legislation differentiates between processed fishery and aquaculture products that are dried, salted or in brine, smoked, ground to flour or meal or pelleted that are covered by both the FIC and the CMO Regulations and other processing methods such as canning and composite products that are only covered by the FIC Regulation.
The commercial name or commercial designation is the official name that each Member State gives to their fishery and aquaculture products e.g. Dover sole (English), List (Croatian) or Lenguado común (Spanish).
The scientific name is a Latin name agreed for the species at international level and accompanies the Commercial designation e.g. Dover sole (English) / List (Croatian) / Lenguado común (Spanish) / Solea solea (Latin).
Both the commercial name and scientific name must be provided for all unprocessed products and for processed products that are dried, salted or in brine, smoked, ground to flour or meal or pelleted.
For other processed products, e.g. canned fish or composite products, it is mandatory to provide “the name of the food”. The scientific name may be provided on these products voluntarily.
The name of the food is the legal name, or in the absence of such a name, the name of the food is the customary name. If there is no customary name or the customary name is not used, a descriptive name of the food should be provided. In any case, the name of the food should enable consumers to know the true nature of the food and to distinguish it from foods with which they could confuse it. The commercial name could also be used as the name of the food.
In addition, it should be noted that where the fish constitutes an ingredient of another food and provided that the name and presentation of such food does not refer to a specific species of fish, then all species of fish may designated in the list of ingredients by the term "fish" rather than a specific name.
In all cases, food information shall be accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer.
The fish labelling legislation applies to restaurants and other mass caterers in two ways:
1- When they buy their fishery products they must receive the complete information according to the FIC and CMO Regulations. They must always keep the information received when buying their products, in case the consumers or the authorities request it.
2- When they sell prepared dishes of fishery products, usually as non-prepacked cooked food, or where foods are packed on the sales premises at the consumer’s request or prepacked for direct sale, the following information must be provided:
information on allergens;
other information (including the name of the food) may be required by national rules.