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Report shows only half of European food recalls made public

All too often there is a lag between the time European governments know about unsafe food and when public warnings go out about recalls, a new report says.

After the public notice of last summer’s European egg recall because of insecticide contamination, Berlin-based Foodwatch decided to look into just how often such delays occur. The European consumer rights organization, which specializes in food quality issues, found recall information is only getting out about half the time.

Dutch egg producers last summer were found using fipronil, a banned insecticide, as a cleansing agent. Supermarkets in 18 European countries removed millions of eggs for destruction.

The European Union runs a food safety alert system, which is activated when a member state makes an official report. Belgium filed the first notice on July 20, and the Netherlands and Germany followed.

However, according to Foodwatch, the EU let 10 days pass before going public with the news on Aug. 1.

In its new report, Foodwatch says news about recalls of unsafe food often gets to European consumers late or not at all. The organization formed by Thilo Bode, former Greenpeace executive director, is calling for improved recall procedures in Europe.

“The flawed communication about fipronil-contaminated eggs is not an isolated case,” according to the Foodwatch report. “Consumers routinely don’t know about important food warnings. Often the companies and authorities decide on recalls too late, or sometimes not at all.”

The summer’s massive egg recall showed the flaws in the EU’s food alter the system, according to the report.

Germany has been the center of much of the public criticism over the incident. Foodwatch says over the year, only 53 percent of the 92 recalls were posted for consumers on the government’s food safety website.

One example cited was a mushroom recall for Listeria that did not get posted for three days, apparently because officials were off for the New Year’s holiday.

Foodwatch found the EU’s food safety recall regulations are “too vague” and leave too much to interpretation as to when a recall is required. It also said too much is left up to food producers who it says have a “clear conflict of interest” when it comes to getting unsafe products off the market.

Finally, the report says Europe needs to use additional means to get the word out about recalls, including social media, press releases, and supermarket signage. “Food producers almost never use all the communication tools available to warn about unsafe products,” it said.

The millions of eggs caught up in the fipronil-related recall were all destroyed. Dutch egg producers suffered a loss totaling 33 million euros.

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