The European Commission has today launched a dedicated IT tool, known as the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) system to facilitate the exchange of administrative information between national authorities working to combat cross-border violations in Europe.
In the wake of the horsemeat scandal of 2013, the Commission developed an action plan to strengthen controls of the food supply chain. One of these measures was to set up a pan-European mechanism to ensure the rapid exchange of information between national authorities and the Commission in cases of suspected food fraud cases. As a result, the European Food Fraud Network (FFN) was born and tasked with handling requests for cross-border cooperation. Each Member State has appointed a contact point to handle requests from contact points in the other Member States that form part of the network. This network has been operational since July 2013 and since its creation, the Commission has observed a marked increase in the number of exchanges from 30 in 2013 to 90 so far in 2015, adding up to 180 cases in total since its creation.
Cross border cooperation helps to improve the capability of national authorities to:
- detect and prevent cross border breaches of EU food chain rules; and if necessary
- collect the information that is needed to refer a case for further investigation and to ensure appropriate enforcement action
The AAC system will ensure that the Food Fraud Network works even more efficiently and is able to respond more swiftly to information requests.
The Activity Report of the FFN for 2014 reveals that exchanges on suspected frauds mostly relate to mislabelling (for instance with regard to date marking, adding water or ingredients), falsified certification and/or documents and substitution, such as replacement of a higher value species with a lower value species (for example substituting pollock for cod). Importantly, however, statistical conclusions cannot be drawn from these data given that Member States may also exchange information outside of the FFN and that cases which do not have a cross-border dimension, i.e. which occur at purely national level, are not exchanged via the Network.
The system will be used in the first phase by the Food Fraud Network. At a later stage, it will be made available also to the liaison bodies working on cases of Administrative Assistance and Cooperation not related to fraudulent practices.
In 2013 the horse meat scandal made headline news across Europe and further afield. The story that horse meat was being passed off as beef exposed the complex nature of our globalised food supply chain. Evidence gathered did not point to a food safety or public health issue, but rather an issue of fraudulent labelling motivated by the prospect of gain. It demonstrated that fraudsters were taking advantage of weaknesses in the system to the detriment of both legitimate businesses and consumers. Europe's food processing industry faced a crisis of consumer confidence and trust in the industry hit an all-time low.