The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is a notification system operated by the European Commission to exchange information between member states on identified hazards in food and feed. This exchange of information helps member states to act in a rapid and coordinated manner in response to a health threat caused by food or feed.
The 2012 Annual Report on the RASFF, published in June, revealed that a total of 8,797 notifications were transmitted in 2012. This represents a 3.9% decrease compared to 2011. In contrast to the decrease in notifications across Europe, the number of notifications originating in Ireland has increased each year since 2008.
In his foreword to the Report, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Mr Tonio Borg, noted that as part of a five-point action plan implemented in the wake of the horsemeat controversy, the Commission intends expanding the application of the RASFF to include food fraud.
Food fraud is a relatively new phenomenon and is attracting greater attention now as an emerging risk given the increasingly international and complex nature of food supply chains. The RASFF system provides a mechanism to deal with such fraud as the system enables member states to collect and report on complex traceability in the supply chains for food and feed. This was a key issue in the recent horsemeat controversy.
Due to the use of the RASFF in the horsemeat case, the Irish Food Safety Authority, which was the first to identify the mislabelling of horsemeat, was able to swiftly alert its European partners. A total of 380 RASFF notifications, original and follow-up, were transmitted to assist in tracing the products and withdrawing them from the market.
Another recent instance of food fraud in Europe, which emphasises the need for action in this area, occurred in September 2012. The Czech food safety authority used the RASFF when a number of people contracted methanol poisoning after having consumed "on tap" spirits. Unfortunately, in this instance, 36 people died as a result of the poisoning.
The horsemeat controversy and the Czech methanol poisoning incident have highlighted a legitimate need to exchange information in cases of food fraud. The expansion of the RASFF to include food fraud is to be welcomed in this regard.
Contributed by: Micheál Mulvey