EC sets up dedicated food fraud research centre

The European Commission officially launched an expert network today to share information on food fraud and food quality issues.

The new Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality – operated by the EC’s Joint Research Centre – will bring together experts from within and outside the Commission in order to “support EU policymakers and national authorities by providing access to, and sharing up-to-date scientific knowledge” in this area.

The decision comes as food fraud is increasingly seen as a cause of concern for consumers, with a recent survey in the UK revealing almost nine out of 10 people had lost confidence in the global supply chain and 42 per cent were concerned about food fraud, with a third believing food crime will increase in the future.

Last year, the EC proposed a series of measures to fight food fraud in the aftermath of the fipronil egg scandal, which saw millions of eggs withdrawn from the market across Europe and hundreds of farms closed. Among the proposals was a mechanism for EU-wide risk monitoring and greater co-operation in the response to crises.

“Concerns about food fraud and food quality undermine consumer confidence and damage the whole food supply chain in Europe, from farmers to retailers,” said the Commission in a statement, adding that recent cases of food fraud included olive oil, wine, honey, fish, dairy products, meat and poultry

This activity means consumers “may be exposed to unfair commercial marketing practices, especially regarding food products with significant differences in composition offered in different markets but under a similar package,” it went on.

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The new centre will coordinate market surveillance activities, operate an early-warning and information system and serve as a link point for information sources at the Commission and member states. The EC says it will complement the existing EU Food Fraud Network “by providing an interface between science and policy-making.”

Surveillance will also be conducted on the composition and sensory properties of food offered under the same packaging and branding on several markets across the EU – reflecting concerns that in some cases food manufacturers may break the law by selling inferior versions of their brands to consumers in some parts of the EU.

The unit will also produce newsletters, interactive maps, databases and regular reports and will make this information publicly accessible, and will be funded entirely by the Commission.

“The Commission takes the issue of food quality and unjustified differentiation very seriously and has already taken a number of concrete steps to tackle the issue,” said Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vêrá Jourov.

“Providing for better scientific evidence is a crucial part of this work,” she added.

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