The free movement of safe and wholesome food is an essential aspect of the internal market and contributes significantly to the health and well-being of citizens and to their social and economic interests. The EU is equipped with a mature and functioning regulatory framework ensuring food safety that deeply relies on enforcement. In that regard, agri-food fraud is an area where the EU is continuously stepping up its efforts.
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Fraudulent activities are characterised by their intentional nature, aimed at an economic gain, in violation of legal rules and at the expense of the immediate customer or the final consumer.
Attempts by some business operators to obtain unfair advantages over competitors by deceiving them (and/or consumers) and the extension of organised groups' crime portfolio to cover food and drink have led to a series of prominent food fraud cases such as the horsemeat scandal. The digital dimension (e-commerce of food) further creates opportunities for deceptive and dishonest practices allowing action from "abroad". The resulting food fraud incidents affect the confidence in the EU food system, with an immediate impact on the functioning of the internal market. The cross-border dimension is often strong as fraudulent operators seek for more profit on the biggest possible scale. Member States can thus not effectively act alone.
The complex nature of our globalized agri-food supply chain and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products increase the possibility of fraud. Faced with this phenomenon, control authorities are losing credibility, companies are losing money and consumers are losing trust in food. This creates a major paradox: "EU food is safer than ever, yet consumer's trust is low".
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, the European Parliament's 2013 resolution called on the Commission "to give food fraud the full attention it warrants and to take all necessary steps to make the prevention and combating of food fraud an integral part of EU policy" and "to make the prevention and combating food fraud an integral part of an EU policy".As reaction to the Fipronil incident, the Member States and the Commission agreed on a first set of concrete measures to reinforce the EU's action against food fraud. These measures were presented to the AGRIFISH Council on 9 October 2017. They included a commitment to improved interaction between the rapid alert system (RASFF) and the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation system (AAC) and to the creation of single contact points for both systems. The EU re-shaped its agri-food chain official control policies and developed them further with a view to both enhancing citizen's trust and increasing overall efficiency.
On 16 December 2019, the Council of the EU adopted new conclusions on further steps to improve ways of tackling and deterring fraudulent practices in the agro-food chain. In these conclusions, the Council recalled that a high level of protection was an overall objective of EU policies concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection, and recognised that the current EU legal framework on tackling food fraud was adequate. The Council nonetheless emphasised the need for continuous and improved cross-sectorial cooperation to fight against food fraud (including not only food and feed control authorities, but also authorities involved in the fight against financial crime and tax, customs, police, prosecution and other law enforcement authorities). The Council called upon the Commission and member states to allocate adequate resources to ensure effective implementation of existing EU legislation by improving the shared understanding of the criteria determining food fraud. The Council also stressed the need to promote awareness-raising among consumers and to continue to broaden training on countering food-fraud.