EU Audit in Belgium on organic production and labeling – Are we still surprised of “organic frauds”?

Here below the summary of the above mentioned audit report:

“This report describes the outcome of a DG Health and Food Safety audit in Belgium, carried out between 19 September 2017 to 29 September 2017, under the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official food and feed controls.

The objective of the audit was to evaluate the controls on organic production and labelling of organic products.

The control system for organic production in Belgium is only partially in place. There is no competent authority responsible for import controls of organic goods, and market controls only cover follow up of complaints and control bodies are not annually supervised by all regional competent authorities.

Although inspections by control bodies at operators are overall effective and the number of additional and unannounced inspections and sampling by control bodies goes far beyond EU requirements, enforcement is weak, in particular, in cases of severe and recurrent irregularities.

This, together with the fact that the likelihood of irregularities are neither reported to competent authorities nor fully investigated by them reduces the effectiveness of the control system.”

This report highlights some typical factors that increase the likelihood of frauds in the organic sector:

  • weak import controls are the main gate for fraudulent activities. The organic market is assuming a huge dimension in EU and we cannot rely on internal production to cover the needs of raw materials. Certain commodities are in large parte – or mainly – imported: this is the case for instance of many grains and cereals, lentils, tree nuts…
  • the hybrid nature of the control bodies (CBs) is a major weakness as well: in most Member States they are private bodies invested of a public function (namely do the controls for the competent authorities). That means that they have the obligation to report irregularities to the competent authorities (CAs), but they are also competing hard with other CBs to survive on the market. Therefore they could be not so keen to share information about investigations, especially on sensitive cases, with the CAs. They often tend to protect the certified food business operators, that to a certain extent are also their “clients”;
  • the weak supervision of the CAs on the CBs can foster illegality and in any case allows a less transparent management of non compliance cases, for reasons explained in point 2.

The good news is that in most countries the number of inspections is above EU requirements and that they are unannounced, but in our experience on the ground in several Member States the CBs are too focused on paperwork and much less on the fields. An illegal treatment of crops might be spotted much better from a walk beneath them, than from a registry.

Consumers and regulators often rely on labeling and traceability as tools to prevent similar frauds (conventional food passed as organic, country of origin different from what declared), but since these tool are only “paper” they are quite easy to fake for any experienced fraudster. Moreover, they increase the final costs of the products, increasing as well incentives for fraudsters.

The organic sector is mainly involved in what we can call “commercial frauds”: they involve quality and usually are not likely to cause any risk for the public health. As a consequence, in my opinion, this could be one of the sectors where new technologies that might secure transactions along the supply chain and reinforce traceability, including blockchain, should be applied first and get the better added value.

 

Hard times for industrial trans fats: EU upcoming legal limit and FDA moves

The EU Commission recently launched a public consultation on a draft Regulation setting a legal limit for trans fat, other than trans fat naturally occurring in animal fat, in foods intended for the final consumer.

The consultation will be open until 1st November 2018 and anybody can participate.

The draft Regulation is pretty straightforward and it is made of just 2 articles.

Basically it states that, after EFSA opinion suggesting to limit as much as possible the intake of industrial trans fat – and the following assessment of the EU Commission about the viable options to reach this goal – setting a limit was the only realistic option to protect public health.

Therefore art. 1 states that in Part B of Annex III to Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006 (on fortification of food and substances that might add to food and supplements), the following entry is added:

Trans fat

The following conditions shall apply:

a. The content of trans fat, other than trans fat naturally occurring in animal fat, in food which is intended for the final consumer, shall not exceed 2 grams per 100 grams of fat.

b. The definitions of “fat” and of “‘trans fat” set out respectively in points (2) and (4) of Annex I to Regulation (EC) No 1169/2011 shall apply.”

Therefore, the limit would not be applicable to B2B foods, provided that they are used in a way that grants no more that 2 g T-fat/100 g fat on the final products.

A transitional period is given by art. 2: food which does not comply with this draft Regulation may continue to be placed on the market until 1 April 2021.

In the meantime I remember to all our readers that in 2015, US FDA determined that PHOs (partially hydrogenated oils), the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). For the majority of uses of PHOs, June 18, 2018, remains the date after which manufacturers cannot add PHOs to foods, without filing a specific GRAS petition affirming the safety of use. However, to allow for an orderly transition in the marketplace, FDA is allowing more time for products produced prior to June 18, 2018 to work their way through distribution. FDA is extending the compliance date for these foods to January 1, 2020.

You can find the FDA related resources here.