News 19.08.2014

New foodwatch-report: Lost in the supermarket

foodwatch is demanding a complete overhaul of German and European food legislation. Although preventive protection from deception and prophylactic health care are the central principles in operation – they are only poorly reflected in legislation and legal practice. This is the result of a detailed analysis of national and EU food legislation which foodwatch has presented in Berlin under the title, „Lost in the supermarket“.

The crucial problem is that although there is in theory a high level of preventive protection from fraudulent or harmful actions in place – in practice there is a yawning gap between aspiration and reality in the field of food legislation. A scandal usually only becomes public if the products – dioxin eggs or horse meat lasagne – have already been consumed. It is primarily down to the influence of the food and agriculture lobby that the notion of prevention which was anchored in food legislation redrafted after the BSE disaster, has been subverted in legal practice. The numerous single pieces of legislation encourage risks to health and increase the danger of consumers being misled instead of protected.

Legal loopholes hinder effective prevention

Here are some examples of poor health protection due to legislative oversights:

  • Animal feed is regularly contaminated with dioxins. The test requirements are so leaky that it is scarcely possible to prevent toxins entering the food chain. In addition, if an animal feed producer makes a voluntary disclosure, he will automatically escape punishment even if the dioxin-contaminated goods have already been sold. Not only does this not represent any deterrent, it even acts as an incentive to doctor the feed.
  • Ambiguous nutritional values, misleading health statements, the use of dubious additives or the excessive application of antibiotics in animal feed with negative consequences for human health: this is all only possible because legal specifications allow it.
  • Infringements of hygiene specifications or exceeding limits, e.g. for pesticides in fruit and vegetables - these are commonplace occurrences but they cannot be effectively prevented as long as the results of food inspections are not published.
  • Due to insufficient right of information, consumers are often not given any information at all from authorities or companies, or else not quickly enough to avoid risky foods.

The ban on deception is also regularly and systematically broken because legal loopholes get in the way of effective prevention:

  • Cases of fraud such as the horse meat scandal are only possible because the retail trade cannot be made liable for the fraudulent contents of its own-brand products due to a lack of inspection requirements.
  • Statutory rules and regulations legalise misleading labelling and advertising practices because, for example, it is not mandatory to give details of origin or declare the use of genetic engineering; or else normative rules are themselves misleading (raspberry tea without raspberries, poultry sausages with pork, etc.).

Tougher punishments are not enough

foodwatch is demanding a comprehensive review of all food legislation: all laws must be judged by whether they serve the principles of prophylactic health care and preventive protection from fraud.

The call for tougher punishments and better checks is popular but in itself it passes the test of consumer fraud. It is more important that the following basic conditions be met for any successful overhaul of food legislation:

  • thorough implementation of the "prophylactic principle" and the notion of prevention;
  • setting up an effective traceability system along the whole supply chain;
  • a comprehensive and effective duty of information on the part of the authorities and companies;
  • the introduction of corporate criminal law;
  • a judicial review of the right of associations to initiate legal proceedings for consumer protection associations at a national and EU level.