Time to improve checks of chemicals in food, recommends EU report

BEUC NEWS - 17.01.2019

The EU rules to keep consumers’ food safe from chemical hazards are incomplete or not effectively applied. This is the verdict of a new audit published this week by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the “guardians of the EU finances”.

The report highlights important shortcomings in the EU food safety model:

  • Many measures to regulate chemicals in food remain pending.

For instance, it has been more than ten years since EFSA published its opinion on safe levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements. Yet the Commission is still to act.

Similarly, harmonised safety rules for food packaging other than plastics are still needed. By way of example, the Commission was legally required to revisit the migration limits for toxic lead and cadmium from ceramic food packaging by 1987, over 30 years ago. 

  • Food safety rules are not properly enforced.

The audit found that Member States tend to test more for certain regulated substances while others slip under the radar1, because of a lack of resources.

The Court of Auditors therefore recommends reviewing the legislation and boosting complementarity between private and public control systems.

BEUC urges the next Commission to heed the ECA’s call and close the regulatory gaps to improve consumer protection from harmful chemicals in their food.

Whilst companies’ own checks may play a role in a more efficient control system, BEUC also urges Member States to allocate enough funding for official food controls.

Because of the economic crisis, Member States have been cutting back on resourcing controls to save money. This trend must be reversed, and it is encouraging that some governments have done so. Belgium for instance has increased the budget of the national food control authority, in the aftermath of the 2017 Fipronil egg crisis. This move was welcomed by Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop.

 

Notes

1. The Member States visited during the audit tend to test more for pesticide residues, veterinary medicines and contaminants than for food additives, flavourings, enzymes and food contact materials.