EU food safety cannot be 'at the mercy of big business'

Country of origin labelling would boost consumers' confidence at minimal cost, argues Marc Tarabella.

By Marc Tarabella

Marc Tarabella (BE, S&D) is co-chair of Parliament’s Bureau of the Sports Group

24 Feb 2015

In 2013, European citizens discovered that some supposedly beef lasagnes were in fact made with horsemeat. This scandal led to a loss of confidence from consumers in the EU's system of food monitoring. 

DNA tests undertaken throughout Europe revealed that at least five per cent of the beef checked wasn't really beef. In some countries such as France, this number was three times higher. 

Part of the problem in this saga was the absence of proper food labelling. We cannot turn a blind eye to this - consumers must have full confidence in the choices they make. 

There are solutions to improving the reliability of our products. For example, more inspections without giving prior notification to the manufacturers and sample testing on a regular basis could be undertaken. The latter would only cost a company €40 per test - this is extremely unlikely to lead to bankruptcy, and would help restore citizens' confidence.

"The commission's attitude seems to be indulgence of the food sector, rather than actual concern for citizens"

Other necessary precautions concern origin labelling. Food can be labelled as an EU product even if the raw material comes from the other side of the world, as long as some element of the production process is completed in a member state. This is misleading to consumers who wish to support local produce, as they are unable to rely on the labelling.

As MEPs elected by citizens to assert their rights, we cannot allow the food industry to manipulate consumers in such a way. That is why European deputies would like to go further in the efficiency of food monitoring. Parliament has requested that the commission devise a new proposal on mandatory country of origin labelling for meat in processed meals.

In this day and age, it is unacceptable to continue lying to European consumers by omitting information from food labels. Country of origin labelling is already mandatory for unprocessed beef. However, given the amount of pizzas, ravioli and meatballs in our supermarkets, we need mandatory labelling for processed meals.

Our consumers have a right to know - in fact, they want to know - what is on their plate. 90 per cent of Europeans are in favour of country of origin labelling of meat in processed food. The remaining 10 per cent must work for the commission.

Up until now, the commission has refused to make labelling mandatory, saying it would lead to additional costs that companies would then transfer to consumers. 

This argument makes no sense. Food manufacturers who have done this have raised their price by only 0.67 per cent, according to consumer associations. This means that a shepherd's pie that costs €3.14 would rise to €3.16 - hardly a soaring price increase. The commission's attitude seems to be indulgence of the food sector, rather than actual concern for citizens.

In light of recent scandals, it is now more necessary than ever to create strong rules, mandatory for all and that are respectful of Europeans' rights. 

Food safety is too important to leave to the mercy of big businesses, who will always give priority to their profit margins before the health of citizens.

Read the most recent articles written by Marc Tarabella - World Obesity Day: An apple a day keeps the doctor away