THE EU IS introducing new rules to cut down on ‘food fraud’ and prevent a repeat of the horsemeat scandal, which was first uncovered by Irish authorities four years ago.
However there are concerns the regulations don’t go far enough, and that a scheme similar to the Republic’s country-of-origin labelling system should be rolled out across Europe.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted in favour of introducing new food safety rules to help tackle so-called food fraud.
The rules, which have already been approved by the bloc’s 28 member states, aim to improve food traceability, combat fraud and restore consumer trust in the food chain.
They were a direct response to the 2013 horsemeat scandal, which saw meat products being pulled from supermarket shelves across several countries, including Ireland and the UK.
The issue first came to light when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that beefburgers with traces of equine DNA were being supplied to supermarkets by a subsidiary of ABP Food, an Irish company owned by well-known businessman Larry Goodman.
Under the new initiative, over a dozen separate sets of EU rules have been revamped and consolidated into a single EU regulation governing food and feed safety, and animal and plant health.
This was due to the view that many national rules were overlapping and left too much leeway for member states to implement them in different ways.
The new rules will result in more independent inspections, and a single EU-wide framework will apply to all official controls along the entire food chain, at all stages of production, processing and distribution.
Member states will be obliged to introduce stricter penalties for fraudsters. The new law also includes better protection for whistleblowers. The new rules will come into effect from late 2019.
Speaking to Fora, Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan said that food fraud is still “rampant” in certain products in the EU, such as fish.
She said that the new inspections are a welcome development and will help Irish authorities tackle food fraud. However, she said she was concerned about how the new rules will be enforced.
The EU Parliament recently approved a new trade deal with Canada, named CETA. This deal will allow Canada to sell large amounts of meat, including horsemeat, to the EU.
Boylan said that Canadian food checks are not as stringent as those in the EU, and she added that the bloc has to be careful that poor-quality meat does not end up on shop shelves.
“I think that the rules will help, and tighter inspections are always welcome (but) Canada has made cutbacks to inspections and to their food regulatory authority,” she said.
“It is all well and good bringing in new EU rules, but is the EU capable of monitoring food coming in from third countries?”
She said that other countries should look to replicate Ireland’s food country-of-origin labelling system. Bord Bia has introduced a quality mark that certifies products were produced in Ireland and meet a high standard.
Although voluntary, over 42,000 farmers and 150 food processors have signed up to the scheme. Thousands of farmers signed up for the scheme after companies like McDonald’s demanded Bord Bia-approved beef after the horsemeat scandal.
“The industry has argued against country-of-origin labelling because they say that the cost to the manufacturer would be prohibitive,” Boylan said.
“We can use Ireland as an example to show that farmers will opt into it voluntarily because consumers like to know where their food is coming from. Large retailers look for food with the Bord Bia logo now.
“Country-of-origin labelling could be applied across the EU; it would tighten up the food chain.”