Misleiden - verleiden
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Misleiden - verleiden

  • 15 April 2014
  • Door: Judith Witte

On 26 March, the Dutch Safety Board published a report on the risks in the meat chain (Risico’s in de Vleesketen) which identified important bottlenecks in the meat chain and how it is monitored by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). The media had a field day, and incorporated the findings into countless articles. Consumers were shocked, and were left wondering ‘Are things really as bad as that?’

Needless to say, the Board’s conclusions were not completely new – at least, not for people in the industry. Our interview with Dutch MEP Esther de Lange in Issue 1 already touched on the main point: companies and governments are failing to fully shoulder their responsibilities for jointly ensuring the safety of meat. When it comes to meat inspections, fraud is often neglected despite the fact that it can pose a real threat to food safety.

“In order to combat food fraud, more knowledge is needed about the factors that play a role in the vulnerability to food fraud of companies and the food chain. In addition, the latest, less conventional fraudulent methods and special products with labels such as sustainable, organic or animal-friendly demand new and advanced analysis techniques,” said Professor Saskia van Ruth when officially accepting her role as Professor of Food Authenticity and Integrity at Wageningen University on 3 April. “Products can originate in the furthermost corners of the world and the food chain has become an extensive and highly complex network that is fragile and vulnerable to fraud.” (And to geopolitics – but that’s a completely different kind of threat!)

In order to gain a tighter grasp on food fraud, better supervision is essential. However, in its report, the Board stated that the NVWA lacks the resources to tackle the problem effectively and has insufficient scope to develop into an authority on the matter. Furthermore, continual reorganisations and cutbacks have reduced its supervisory effectiveness. In addition, the fact that the NVWA is responsible for inspection, supervision and detecting fraud in the meat chain does not make things any easier, according to the researchers: there should be clear division between those individual roles, and currently that is not the case.

Even if a product has been manufactured 100% safely, it can still pose a risk to public health: approx. 2% of all adults have a food allergy. To make it easier for consumers to see what they are buying, the Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 will come into effect on 14 December. But who is going to check compliance? “The NVWA only examines product labelling in relation to risks to public health. Due to limited capacity, the NVWA is forced to restrict its supervisory activities exclusively to topics which pose the greatest health risk. This means that the NVWA will not automatically monitor misleading ingredients, product names or photos on a label, for instance,” states the NVWA website (on 3 April 2014). (NB: Needless to say, the fact that this aspect is not automatically monitored should never be regarded as justification for misleading consumers!).

And I’m signing off with another food risk which is not necessarily new: the (all too sweet) temptation to eat too much. Luckily, ‘nudging’ might make it possible to stimulate consumers to make healthier food product choices.

Judith Witte

[email protected]

Source: Vakblad Voedingsindustrie 2014