`Olive Oil Tops E.U. List of Foods at Most Risk of Fraud

Food & Cooking

Olive Oil Tops E.U. List of Foods at Most Risk of Fraud

Oct. 21, 2013
Julie Butler

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Olive oil, fish and organic foods are the prod­ucts most prone to food fraud, accord­ing to a draft report of a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment com­mit­tee which also calls for tougher penal­ties.

Com­mit­ting food fraud in the E.U. is lucra­tive, the chances of get­ting caught are rel­a­tively low, and the num­ber of cases appears to be ris­ing.

And the evi­dence that crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions are becom­ing more involved in food fraud is all the more wor­ri­some,” the report also says.

Pre­pared by the Com­mit­tee on the Envi­ron­ment, Pub­lic Health and Food Safety, the report — on the food cri­sis, fraud in the food chain and the con­trol thereof” — fol­lows a four-month inquiry and is open to amend­ment until Octo­ber 28. The com­mit­tee refer­ral was announced in Par­lia­ment on June 10 and came came in the wake of Europe’s horse meat scan­dal.

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Fraud risk list based on aca­d­e­mic research, police records and indus­try con­sul­ta­tions

The Committee’s spokes­woman on the report, Holland’s Esther de Lange, said on Fri­day that it fol­lowed con­sul­ta­tion with all rel­e­vant par­ties, includ­ing pro­duc­ers, traders, retail­ers, con­sumers, sci­en­tists, national author­i­ties, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, and Europol.

She said she was sur­prised meat was not among the top ten foods most sub­ject to fraud. After olive oil, fish and organic foods come milk, grains, honey and maple syrup, cof­fee and tea, spices (such as saf­fron and chili pow­der), wine, and cer­tain fruit juices.

The list was based on aca­d­e­mic stud­ies (1), police records and indus­try con­sul­ta­tions. The draft report does not say why olive oil came first.

Find­ings include cross-bor­der fraud hard to penal­ize

Among other find­ings in the report are that:

- the key char­ac­ter­is­tics of food fraud are: 1) non-com­pli­ance with food law and/or mis­lead­ing the con­sumer, 2) which is done inten­tion­ally and 3) for rea­sons of finan­cial gain. Dif­fer­ent types of food fraud include adul­ter­ation, sub­sti­tu­tion, tam­per­ing and coun­ter­feit­ing;

- cur­rent E.U. laws largely focus on food safety thus food fraud goes largely unde­tected, espe­cially when there are no pub­lic health or food safety issues;

- recent fraud cases include the mar­ket­ing of ordi­nary flour as organic flour, of bat­tery cage eggs as organic eggs, of road salt as food salt, and of horse­meat as beef, and the use of methanol-con­t­a­m­i­nated alco­hol in spir­its;

- juris­dic­tion issues often pre­vent suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion of fraud­u­lent food busi­ness oper­a­tors oper­at­ing across E.U. bor­ders;

- whis­tle-blow­ers are key in uncov­er­ing food fraud and need sup­port.

Calls for big­ger fines, strate­gic polic­ing

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions are:

- more sys­tem­atic col­lec­tion of data on fraud cases;

- that offi­cial con­trols focus not only on food safety issues, but also on pre­vent­ing fraud;

- a move from an admin­is­tra­tive and vet­eri­nary” approach to a polic­ing one , based on risk-pro­fil­ing and the expe­ri­ence of the Dan­ish Food Administration’s fly­ing squad’ and of the Arma dei Cara­binieri and the Guardia di Finanza in Italy;

- a legal onus on food busi­ness oper­a­tors to report food fraud cases;

- sanc­tions of at least dou­ble the amount of the eco­nomic advances sought through the food fraud.

Focus on food safety only allows fraud to thrive

De Lange said that while pub­lic health came first, a one-sided focus on it by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the E.U. Mem­ber States had allowed other cases of food fraud to pass under the radar.

She said a new def­i­n­i­tion of, and approach, to food fraud was needed.

Only if the coun­tries and the E.U., the gov­ern­ment and indus­try, work together can we make a stand against food fraud,” she said.



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