• Cyril McAree

Joined Forces Work To Tackle Food Fraud & Protect Consumers

A two day international conference to share information and explore challenges facing the safety, the integrity and the authenticity of the global food supply chain opened today in Dublin Castle. Over 300 delegates were in attendance at Safeguarding the Food Chain – Protecting Authenticity and Integrity hosted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in partnership with safefood. National and international experts outlined that combatting increasing levels of food fraud requires inter-agency collaboration and intelligence-led insights to protect the food chain and ultimately consumer interests and health.

The growth in food fraud investigations in Europe is climbing with the European Commission’s Food Fraud Network*dealing with 156 cases of food fraud in 2016, up from 108 cases in2015 and 60 cases in 2014.

The conference brings together the key stakeholders to enable discussion on how regulators, inspectors, industry, scientists and academics can work in collaboration and partnership to protect consumers when violations of food law are detected in relation to food crime.The event examines current issues around the authenticity and integrity of food, the public health implications and effective prevention and control strategies.

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI we have robust inspection and enforcement systems in Ireland; but we have to be always vigilant and enhancing them to keep a pace with new and emerging risks. The FSAI is increasingly investigating suspected breaches of food law relating to food fraud. There were 21 food investigations in Ireland in 2014, climbing to 35 in 2015; 34 in 2016 with 20todate in 2017.The importance of maintaining vigilance coupled with robust monitoring of the food supply chain, the sharing of information and intelligence across national borders is crucial if we are to protect consumers –health and their interests.

“Now more than ever with the increasing globalisation of food there is a need for increased focus on ensuring a secure, safe and authentic food supply chainasconsumers have a right to expect the food they purchase is unadulterated, contains what is described on the label and ultimately is safe and trustworthy. Food fraud is committed when food is illegally placed on the market to deceive the customer as to its content or provenance for financial gain.The more we know about food crime, the motivation behindit, the potential threat it poses to our €26 billion food and drink manufacturingindustry; the more we can develop expert and intelligence-based approaches to focus investigations on the highest risk areas. This has to be a strategic and a collaborative approach that doesn’t look at singular foods, but rather at the wider picture,” says Dr Byrne.

“Our own Irish investigations have been conducted across a range of foodsincluding fish, olive oil, honey, soft drinks, alcohol and of course, beef. All provide evidence that while current controls are effective there are always opportunities to enhance them, strengthen national protocols and further increase collaboration with our enforcement colleagues in the official agencies, Revenue & Customs and An Garda Síochána.”

Ray Dolan, CEO, safefood said: “As a North/South body, safefood is uniquely placed to collaborate with multiple stakeholders on the island to help share knowledge and enhance relationships in order to maintain consumer confidence in our food chain. With 3 out of 4 consumers** concerned about food safety, our changing and challenging environmentrequires a response that is proactive yet practical. The recent Brexit vote also poses many wide-ranging issues for consumers when it comes to our food authenticity and traceability”.

Speaking at the conference, Bérengère Dreno, Specialist Intellectual Property Crime, Europol said:

“Food fraud harms consumers and the economy of all EU Member States. Intelligence gathered at Europol clearly shows the involvement of organised criminal groups in these illicit activities. Europol supports the cooperation of law enforcement agencies in the fight against food fraud and developed initiatives jointly with other international agencies such as the operation OPSON to tackle the phenomenon."

The speakers at the two day event represent leading international organisations working in food authenticity including the EU Commission, EUROPOL, EU food safety agencies and food retailers. They include; Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission; Mairead McGuinness, MEP and Vice Chair of the European Parliament; Gavan Wafer, Head of Intelligence, Food Standards Agency, UK and Ron McNaughton, Head of the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit.


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