EU assesses fraud controls in member states

European countries still face several challenges in risk-based food fraud control, according to a new report.

From 2019, Member States must carry out risk-based controls to detect fraudulent and fraudulent practices.

The European Commission’s DG Sante project between 2020 and 2022 collected information on the measures put in place by Member States to combat fraud in the food chain.

The overview report focuses on eight countries and how authorities have developed controls and strategies to combat fraudulent practices. It covers the challenges, opportunities and examples of good practice in fraud control. The report is based on two pilot studies in Ireland and Austria and six fact-finding studies in Sweden, Latvia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland and Germany.

Lack of definition
There is no clear definition of the term “fraudulent and deceptive practices” in the food chain at European level. Most authorities said the lack of an agreed EU definition posed a challenge to the enforcement of the fraud-related parts of the regulation.

Some examples of fraudulent practices in fact-finding studies are either directly related to food safety risks or, due to a lack of product traceability, such risks cannot be ruled out.

Studies have also found that planning risk-based controls is complex and fraud-related control measures can be resource-intensive. They revealed that although fraudulent and fraudulent practices often have a transnational dimension, there are examples where the risks are national, regional or local.

Europol’s activities, such as Operation Opson and the EU’s coordinated action on herbs, spices and honey, help Member States to gain experience in the fight against fraudulent practices. Actions will focus on illegal plant protection products in 2023 and low weight seafood in 2024.

All EU countries carry out some checks related to food adulteration, the use of illegal substances or aspects of food quality. Although the intensity, scope and scale of e-commerce controls vary widely, such checks generally take fraud-related aspects into account.

Fraudulent practices in the food chain can be linked to other illegal activities such as tax evasion, undeclared and illegal work, theft and smuggling. The analysis found that the level of cooperation between national agencies varied.

Data and resource usage issues
All Member States use the EU Alert and Cooperation Network (ACN); however, there are sometimes significant delays in responses due to technical issues or staff shortages, and in other cases the use of alternative communication channels means that the results of investigations are not recorded, resulting in reduced network efficiency, according to the report.

Fact-finding studies revealed that Member States find it challenging to carry out adequate vulnerability assessments and identify new emerging risks, but are working on ways to collect and analyze data. Fraud-related training for staff performing official controls was another area that required attention.

Risk-based planned controls and targeted investigations based on intelligence are both appropriate and complementary ways of combating fraudulent practices.

Courts decide penalties and sanctions as part of national law. This does not always ensure that the economic profit obtained by the operator through such practices is sufficiently taken into account when imposing sanctions, the report said.

In March 2023, the European Commission published guidelines to support Member States in combating fraud in the agri-food supply chain. The Commission’s Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF) training initiative is also improving knowledge to combat fraudulent practices.

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