Foodwatch and Dutch State in court on June 9th
- Dutch State cannot guarantee food safety
foodwatch Netherlands recently announced that it would initiate legal proceedings against the Dutch State regarding mechanically separated meat (MSM). Mechanically separated meat is the amorphous pink or grey meat mass, also known as 'spray meat', 'scrape meat' or 'pink slime', obtained from the carcasses of slaughtered animals. Mainly poultry, sometimes pigs. The food watchdog has summoned the state in preliminary relief proceedings. The lawsuit will take place with an oral hearing on June 9th 2022 at 11 a.m. at the Palace of Justice in The Hague.
In-depth investigations by Foodwatch have shown that the Dutch State is flouting food safety. The State cannot make clear where exactly MSM comes from and which products contain it (no traceability), and thus the State cannot properly enforce it. In order to monitor MSM, the Dutch State must know where the MSM comes from and in which products it is processed (inadequate enforcement and no proper labelling). The Netherlands Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) has insufficient people and resources to monitor and intervene when something goes seriously wrong (no capacity).
If it is established that the Dutch State does not adequately fulfil its traceability obligations, this can cause serious (health) risks for the Dutch consumer, because MSM is susceptible to rapid bacterial growth which can cause serious intestinal illnesses. In addition, consumers cannot trace whether and which kind of MSM has been used in purchased food. Therefore, consumers may be served up cheap, residual meat for which they have paid too much. The State cannot trace 'wrong' or unsafe MSM, let alone stop it from entering the food chain. Furthermore, the State cannot address the culprits in the chain, because it does not know where exactly the MSM comes from. Foodwatch takes the view that the state is thus not complying with European legislation (General Food Law, EC Regulation 178/2002) to take preventive action against health hazards and misleading foodstuffs.
Nicole van Gemert, director of foodwatch Netherlands: "It is very important to have transparent food chains. This also applies to MSM; we simply cannot get a clear picture. How can the government then take timely action? Let alone take preventive measures? The state is placing enormous health and financial risks on Dutch consumers. This is not only a danger to public health, but also violates European legislation. For all these reasons, foodwatch has taken this case to court."
With this case, foodwatch aims to highlight the problem of state lawbreaking and the lack of legal action organisations can take when states do not comply with their consumer protection obligations. Foodwatch believes the possibility to take action against a state’s breach of law would improve consumer protection and generally improve the rule of law and democracy in the EU and its member states. Within the EU, The Netherlands is the only country where consumers are able to take collective legal action against the state due to the Dutch “Act on redress of mass damages in a collective action (WACMA)”. Foodwatch hopes the current case against the Dutch state regarding MSM can act as an exemplary case in its overall goal to enable European consumer organisations to take government bodies to court for violations of applicable consumer protection law.
The risks of Pink Slime
MSM carries major risks. Firstly, a health risk: because MSM meat is so finely ground, bacteria feel at home in it and can grow into dangerous numbers rapidly. Secondly, an information risk: MSM can be sold (at a higher price) as fresh or quality meat without any indication on the label. Lastly, you do not know what you are eating: chicken nuggets may contain other meat besides chicken, which may not be in line with certain beliefs or preferences.
A new opinion poll commissioned by foodwatch shows that 74% of consumers do not know which products contain MSM. 90% have never seen it on the label, while 91% think is important.