Food safety and labelling, and therefore the issue of food fraud, comes under the power of the EU. EU law (council regulation 178/2002) clearly states that food producers and retailers, not British civil servants, have the primary responsibility for food safety and quality in the UK. And if a product is judged acceptable in one EU state, EU rules say it should be accepted in all. This passing of responsibility from Whitehall to Brussels has created a system where those who have an interest in fraud are being asked to police themselves. In short, there is a systems failure. The parent organisation of Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the European Food Safety Authority, and the FSA solely exists to enforce rules originating from the European Commission. But those rules do not lay responsibility, or adequate resources for testing, with the FSA. It is this slack EU regime that has allowed consumers to be deceived.
Robert Oulds is director of the Bruges Group.
Farmers in my Northern Ireland constituency make the important decision to adhere to the strictest animal welfare, environmental and traceability rules. This ensures that when the produce leaves the farm, the farmer can say it is of a high standard. But in recent days, consumer confidence in British produce has been eroded by the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of a minority of processors and retailers. This isn’t indicative of a problem with the rules. As with all aspects of its remit, the EU subjects the agri-food sector to excesses of red tape and regulation. Rather, it is a problem faced in all walks of life – that of the minority bending, breaking and exploiting the rules. Evaluating enforcement measures across the EU and within member states is a must. Those guilty of this deceit must face the full force of the law and stringent penalties.
Diane Dodds is a Democratic Unionist Party MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.