EU food law needs to be fundamentally revised– EU Commission’s reform plans are insufficient

  • Transparency and food safety

foodwatch has called for a fundamental amendment of EU food law in order to better protect citizens from food scandals. The European Commission's reform proposal is completely inadequate. Recent cases, such as the scandal surrounding fipronil-tainted eggs, have shown, for example, that traceability along the food supply chain is not being consistently maintained.

Furthermore, authorities are still not obliged to inform consumers quickly and comprehensively about health risks posed by foodstuffs. In cases involving fraud or deception, EU law does not impose any obligation on the authorities to inform the public. These weaknesses must be urgently eliminated. Further, in order to ensure that the provisions of food law are effectively implemented, the EU must give consumer associations collective rights of action – similar to what is enshrined in EU law for environmental organisations. To date, the EU Commission's plans for a reform of European food law only provide for improvements in the risk assessment of hazardous substances, for example in the authorisation of weed killers.

"Whether it is fipronil in eggs, contaminated Lactalis baby milk or horsemeat in beef lasagne: the recurring scandals demonstrate the fundamental weaknesses of EU food law. Unsafe food has been sold millions of times to unsuspecting consumers, industry and authorities have been unable to fully trace the distribution of the affected products, and, even when they knew the names of fraudulent or potentially harmful products and their manufacturers, they did not always immediately inform citizens – this must change.
It is high time for the EU to effectively enforce compliance with food law and address its loopholes. Otherwise, the next food scandal is just a matter of time."
Thilo Bode Director of foodwatch international

foodwatch criticises in particular that the provisions of EU food law requiring complete traceability in the food chain have never been enforced. For example, all major food scandals in recent years – including salmonella in baby milk from the French manufacturer Lactalis, eggs contaminated with the insecticide fipronil and horsemeat in beef lasagne products – have resulted in situations where millions of unsafe or fraudulent products were sold on the market before the companies and authorities were able to trace them down the supply chain and remove them from retail shelves. Moreover, consumers were not sufficiently warned. EU food law should therefore clearly stipulate that the authorities must inform the public quickly and comprehensively – by releasing the names of manufacturers and products, both in cases of health risks and in cases of fraud. foodwatch also demands that consumer associations be given the right to sue authorities that fail to fulfil their obligations under EU law. This is the only way to give these organisations the leverage they need for effectively defending consumer rights.

The EU’s General Food Law (Regulation EC 178/2002) was adopted in 2001 in response to the BSE crisis (“mad cow disease”). It is now to be revised as part of the "REFIT process" (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme) of the European Commission. In April 2018 the EU Commission presented a reform proposal to improve risk assessment. For example, studies on the safety of weed killers, such as glyphosate, are to be made more publicly available in the future. foodwatch criticised the proposal as insufficient. The fundamental weaknesses of EU food law must be eliminated. foodwatch has submitted eight specific demands.