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The good news is that traceability rules work. Otherwise it would not have been possible in such a short period of time to discover the many food operators engaged in adulteration practices. According to ‘The Guardian’, it was the Irish who first came up with the idea to test for this, very likely after being tipped off. That was back in November. For various reasons, most notably, the fear of doing “huge damage to commercial interests,” the results were kept classified till they were confirmed. The waiting time was perhaps also necessary in order to gauge the geographical scope and dimensions of the scandal.

We now know we are here facing a criminal offence of enormous proportions involving food operators across the whole of the European continent and both in the low- and high-end markets.

Currently attention is focusing on restoring consumer confidence. Full clarification has been promised; new labeling rules are under consideration; and even DNA ‘authenticity’ tests are on the table as part of permanent procedures.

The latter are unlikely to materialize considering the costs involved. Insofar as labeling rules are concerned, these definitely require re-examination, also in relation to the rules for additives and enzymes which are frequently used in processed and frozen food. Agreeing on new rules will, however, take time.

The key issue that has however still to be tackled is that of safety and quality controls – both by food operators and by public authorities. An important question in this connection is how often have controls of frozen products been taking place? My guess is: very rarely, if at all.

I base this hypothesis on three observations:

• first, there is the extensive scale of the adulteration crime, which is indicative of a practice within the food industry of taking advantage of (a) known blind spot(s);
• second, official controls are the weakest link of the EU food safety regime as already shown by research (my own included);
• third, I could only find one international standard for frozen (meat) products dating back to 1976, last modified 2008, but on the whole a lightweight (CAC-RCP 8-1976).

Against the background of rising world-wide demand (and prices) for meat products (fresh or frozen) this was a felony too good and easy not to have happened.