Euro Coop responds to EU food safety report

Euro Coop welcomed the report and praised the ECA’s initiative to address loopholes in food safety

Euro Coop has responded to the European Court of Auditors’ report on chemical hazards in food.

The organisation, which represents co-operative retailers in Europe welcomed the report but suggested moves to address loopholes in food safety.

Published on 15 January, the report concluded that although the EU legal framework for protecting consumers from chemical hazards in food was “soundly based”, there were issues around implementation and enforcement affecting its functioning at member state level.

It added that the EU food safety model was overstretched and some member states’ controls covered certain chemicals more frequently than others. The commission also noted that some member states’ legal frameworks were so extensive that public authorities found it difficult to fulfil all their responsibilities.

“Food safety is a high priority for the EU; it affects all citizens and is closely linked to trade,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “But the current EU system faces a number of inconsistencies and challenges.”

To address these problems, Euro Coop calls for the development of a strategy to improve co-ordination and efficiency among the different competent bodies, rather than compromise on the standards. The organisation argues that there are several layers of competences, which result into inefficiencies and double testing of the same substance.

“Groups of chemicals such as enzymes, food flavourings or additives are instead systemically under-checked. In this respect, we particularly appreciate ECA’s recommendation to recognise that the private sector could play a key role in ensuring a better use of resources, by establishing for example partnership with public bodies and co-operating to put in place reliable food safety checks. Other options to be explored to better streamline operations could also include open access to safety checks data and the use of blockchain,” it said.

Co-operative retailers across the EU are already supporting the EU food safety system. According to Euro Coop, the precautionary principle is at the very core of co-operative retailers, particularly when it comes to their own-brand products.

“This is fully in line with our consumer-members’ needs and expectations, who seek in the co-operative products a guarantee of the highest standards of food safety, which in many cases go well beyond legislative requirements,” added the organisation.

In 2017, the country’s largest retailer, Coop Denmark, implemented a strategy to phase out twelve groups of chemicals, which it described as the Dirty Dozen. While these were legally permitted, Coop Denmark preferred to eliminate them from their own-brands because they are deemed to be detrimental to either consumer health or the environment.

The retailer also put pressure on its suppliers to remove these substances as well, helping to stimulate innovation and advance research into the substitution of ingredients or materials. Similarly, in Italy, retailer Coop Italia has been limiting the residues in its own-brand products looking not only at single substance but also at the so-called “cumulative effect”. Food can contain residues of pesticides and contaminants to which animals have been exposed.

Euro Coop added: “We believe that the EU food safety system is a value to be preserved and that, especially thanks to new technologies, a lot can be achieved in order to streamline operations and attain better implementation and enforcement results. No compromise should be accepted on the standards, with particular reference to the precautionary principle – a real stronghold of the EU food safety system – to the benefit of consumers in the EU and worldwide.

“Euro Coop is ready to play an active role in supporting EU and member states on this path by putting at disposal its longstanding experience in coupling sound science with exceptionally high standards of consumer protection.”