Food safety paramount as government intervenes firmly in meat supply chain

The Dutch government will implement firm and far-reaching measures to address and manage food safety risks in the meat supply chain wherever possible. The plan was outlined in a letter sent to the House of Representatives this week by Minister for Agriculture, Sharon Dijksma and Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, Edith Schippers.

A code of conduct and greater accountability mean businesses will acquire more responsibilities. A comprehensive approach to detecting fraud will also be introduced, while supervision and inspection will fall completely within the public domain. Stricter controls on imports and modernisation of European legislation are also required. These measures are in line with the action plan set out to modify the supervisory role of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) by strengthening it both financially and organisationally.

Addressing consumer safety

This means the government follows practically all recommendations of the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), which was asked by Minister Dijksma to investigate risks in the meat supply chain. The OVV came to the conclusion that the system to guarantee meat safety is not operating as required and is not focused on fraud. In addition, hygiene standards during the slaughtering process are insufficient and parties in the industry as well as public supervision are both failing in their responsibilities.

Code of conduct and business accountability

The private sector itself is primarily responsible for meat quality and safety. It is clear there is still room for improvement in this area to ensure hygiene, safety, integrity and traceability in each link of the meat supply chain. That is why a code of conduct for the meat industry is being developed together with the private sector to ensure proper management within the sector, in line with the Dutch corporate governance code. Furthermore, mutual accountability of businesses in the meat supply chain will become more important. Contracts will force businesses to adhere to the agreements made regarding quality, safety and integrity. Failure to comply can result in sanctions or even the elimination of the business from the private quality system.

Comprehensive approach to meat fraud

Meat fraud is unacceptable, which is why the government focuses on a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach to meat fraud in supervision and detection. The NVWA is providing more training programmes for inspectors focusing specifically on fraud, while also stepping up unannounced inspections and product research. In addition, the NVWA will intensify cooperation with institutes such as the Public Prosecution Service, the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service, and customs and international investigation authorities such as Europol and Interpol. The European Commission also established a food fraud network to address issues across Member States. Hefty fines can be imposed on offenders and the NVWA can even shut down their operations.

Government has full responsibility for inspection and supervision

Veterinary and phytosanitary inspection and supervision must guarantee public health and food safety. Based on the OVV’s recommendations and the shortcomings detected in inspection and supervisory tasks carried out by private sector parties, the decision was taken to make supervision and inspection a government responsibility, with a special focus on separating inspection and supervision. This is a far-reaching measure, both financially and in terms of organisation. Safeguarding public health and food safety should not be open to debate.

Intensification of import inspections

Food imported to the Netherlands from outside the EU arrives on the Dutch market via border inspection posts. These posts carry out inspections to minimise food safety risks for Dutch consumers. The Dutch government wants to improve these inspections through a greater focus on the food safety risks involved.

Modernisation of European meat inspection legislation

Finally, European legislation on meat inspection is outdated and conservative. The Netherlands therefore urges the European Commission to test new inspection and supervision methods in pilot schemes. The Commission is working on modernising meat inspections and slaughter house supervision, and pig inspections have recently been modified on the basis of a study in the Netherlands.