The European Commission has adopted the new Official Controls Regulation (EU) No 2017/625 (OCR) in efforts to help tackle the growing phenomenon of food fraud. The new rules replace Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official controls and other associated legislation.

The OCR aims to improve food traceability and restore consumer trust in the integrity of the entire agri-food chain. The new rules will result in more independent inspections, and a single EU-wide framework will apply to official controls along the food chain, at all stages of production, processing and distribution.

What is food fraud?

Food fraud is committed when food is illegally placed on the market with the intention of deceiving the customer, usually for financial gain. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has given the following examples of food fraud:

  • Mislabelling of food to deceive the consumer as to the nature of the product
  • Substitution of products with a cheaper alternative
  • Making false statements about the source of ingredients
  • The sale of food which is unfit for consumption and potentially harmful
  • Failure to identify batch numbers on food products
  • Inadequate commercial documentation available at inspection to demonstrate traceability

How common is it?

Historically, the agri-food processing chain has been deemed a soft target for criminal activity in this area. The 2013 horsemeat scandal, was, according to the EU Parliament a “wake-up call to Europe that criminals were getting involved in the food chain".

A recent Europol-Interpol operation (OPSON VI) carried out in 61 countries (21 EU Member States) whereby each participating country implemented a national operational phase between 1 December 2016 to 31 March 2017, involving police, customs, national food regulatory bodies and partners from the private sector highlights the growing problem of food fraud . As part of this operation, officials inspected goods at some 50,000 sites across Europe in shops, airports, ports and warehouses which resulted in a total of 9,800 tonnes, over 26.4 million litres, and 13 million items of harmful food and drinks worth an estimated €230 million being seized.

How will the new rules tackle the problem?

The new OCR will provide a comprehensive, integrated and more effective control system in the areas of food and feed safety rules, veterinary and plant health requirements, organic production and protected geographical indication rules.

In addition, a more integrated IT system (IMSOC) will be put in place to assist in the tracking of trade practices. This will help ensure better use of relevant data and will reduce existing burdens on businesses and national enforcers. It is also hoped that the new system will speed up the exchange of information between EU Member States.

What next?

The OCR entered into force on 27 April 2017 with the new rules applying from 14 December 2019, subject to some minor exemptions. Businesses that will be impacted by the OCR should consider the effect of the new rules and make the necessary preparations in advance of this December 2019 deadline.