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See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228345904 ‘European Food Scares and Their Impact on EU Food Policy’ ARTICLE in BRITISH FOOD JOURNAL · JANUARY 2007 Impact Factor: 0.77 · DOI: 10.1108/00070700710718507 CITATIONS 66 READS 1,525 3 AUTHORS, INCLUDING: Tim Knowles Manchester Metropolitan University 21 PUBLICATIONS 395 CITATIONS SEE PROFILE Available from: Morven G. McEachern Retrieved on: 09 February 2016 European food scares and their impact on EU food policy Tim Knowles and Richard Moody Hollings Faculty, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK, and Morven G. McEachern Salford Business School, University of Salford, Salford, UK Abstract Purpose – This paper aims to chart the wide range of food scares reported throughout the EU over the period 1986-2006 and explores their impact on EU policy. Design/methodology/approach – There is much extant research that solely investigates the occurrences of specific food scares, however; little emphasis is given to the responses of policy makers. This research aims to narrow this gap in the literature by reviewing the major food scares, which have occurred throughout the EU and the subsequent policy responses. Findings – A number of food scares have dominated media reports over the last two decades, but this study reveals the increasing emergence of rare serotypes of foodborne pathogens, as well as a rising trend of EU-wide contaminant and animal disease-related food scares. Simultaneously, there is evidence of evolution from a product-focused food policy to a risk-based policy, which has developed into a tentative EU consumer-based food policy. Inevitably, in a market of 25 member-states the concept of food quality varies between countries and therein justifies the need for responsive policy development, which embraces the single market philosophy. Research limitations/implications – A typology of EU food scares is advanced and discussed in detail, with comments being made on their impact. In addition, the paper highlights the complexity of a EU consumer, which has led to a need for research into the maximisation of the satisfaction of purchasers by reinsuring their individual “right to choose”. Originality/value – This paper provides a unique insight into a wide range of European food scares (e.g. microbiological, contaminants, animal disease-related) and EU policy makers’ responses to such food scares. Keywords Food industry, Food safety, Food controls, European Union Paper type General review Introduction Prior to the mid 1970s, food safety was neither a significant political, scientific or societal concern (Cooter and Fulton, 2001). One of the earliest recorded food safety incidents took place in southern France in AD944, where 40,000 people died of ergotism (Purvis, 2004). However, no one referred to this as a “food hazard” (see Fife-Schaw and Rowe, 2000), “moral panic” (see Beardsworth, 1990) or “food scare” (see Mitchell and Greatorex, 1990). In fact, the term “food scare” first appeared in the print media in the mid-1980s, in relation to Tylenol tablets being laced with cyanide (Campbell and Fitzgerald, 2001), an activity which is now referred to as “bioterrorism” (Nestle, 2004). No lexical definition of the term “food scare” exists, with the result that the term is applied to a variety of food safety-related contexts. It is generally associated with spiralling public anxiety over food safety incidents and escalating media attention that supplements such events. Moreover, whether some safety issues develop into fully-fledged food scares or not, depends mainly on the magnitude of risk faced by The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0007-070X.htm European food scares 43 British Food Journal Vol. 109 No. 1, 2007 pp. 43-67 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0007-070X DOI 10.1108/00070700710718507 consumers and the extent of media attention devoted to that specific food safety issue. Note the scale of media interest often intensifies further if government bodies appear reluctant to disseminate relevant information (Tansey and Worsley, 1999). Due to varying levels of consumer trust in the media, scientists and government officials, country-specific differences may also occur regarding the development of food scares (Lindgreen, 2003). Since the mid 1980s, most Western European countries have experienced at least one or more significant food scare (e.g. BSE, E-Coli, Salmonella, Dioxin residues). In terms of their evolution, both cultural (e.g. consumer ambivalence towards food; increased numbers of consumers removed from food production) and socio-economic (e.g. consumer emphasis on price/value) trends in conjunction with intensive media coverage interact to incite acute bouts of widespread public anxiety (Frewer et al., 1993; Fitzgerald and Campbell, 2001; De Boer et al., 2003). Consequently, this process creates a short-term negative impact upon consumer consumption/purchase behaviour as well as negatively impact upon the producer, manufacturer or retailer (Roosen et al., 2003; Friedberg, 2004). Mazzocchi (2004, p. 1) also acknowledges this fairly standard pattern, but adds public concern often gradually decreases as media attention moves away from the issue, thus returning to a new “equilibrium”. A number of various activist/pressure groups (e.g. PETA, WSPA, RSPCA), scientific organisations, government bodies and journalists all play a key role in providing food safety information. Consequently, the magnitude of European food scares and their media coverage has provided momentum for the emergence of the “informed consumer” (Assael, 2004; Berry and McEachern, 2005) as well as a switch in emphasis from a EU food policy to a consumerist-centred food policy. The aim of this paper is to conduct a review of the major food scares that have occurred throughout Europe during the period 1986 to mid-2006 and investigate both the reaction and precautionary measures subsequently implemented by European policy makers. It is anticipated that the main contribution of this paper will be to provide a unique insight into a wide range of “food scares” and present a critical analysis relating to EU policy makers’ responses to many of these food scares. European food scares – an overview The development of European surveillance networks intensified as a result of the many European-wide food scares during the 1990s (Fisher and Gill, 2001). In addition to epidemiologic surveillance systems for humans, it is also necessary to conduct surveillance of animal diseases. This aids the provision of information for both international trade and zoonotic-related disease outbreaks. Consequently, reporting variations frequently occur as some European countries choose voluntary as opposed to mandatory reporting systems. One example of a surveillance system is Enter-net, which monitors enteric infections (e.g. Salmonella, E. coli) within Europe. This EU-wide network is currently supported by the Basic Surveillance Network and other Disease Specific Networks such as EUROCJD. Despite the addition of ten new member states to the European Union (EU) in 2004, few food scare examples from newer members such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are included in this paper, due to limited monitoring systems. Further explanation of this limited access is provided by Kaiser and Coulombier (2006) who conclude that, 11 EU countries possess no formal mechanism for dissemination of “epidemic intelligence” (i.e. identification, verification, BFJ 109,1 44 assessment and investigation of potential health threats). Subsequently, Lenglet and Herna´ndez-Pezzi (2006) in their comparison of European surveillance systems, call for a standardisation of EU monitoring and reporting procedures in the EU. In order that both a context and appropriate typology can be advanced, Table I illustrates a chronological timeline of the main “food scares” that have occurred over the period 1986-2006 throughout Europe. These are def
ined as single or collective incidents, which are particularly focused upon by the media and by relevant Government agencies. For ease of reporting, the scares are categorised as microbiological, contaminant and animal disease-related (e.g. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) via new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD)) food incidents. It is apparent that the origins/cause of each of the reported food scares may vary (i.e. specific outbreak of E. coli, activist campaigns/publications detailing specific warnings) but the inclusion of all three categories is based on the fact that each type of food scare has driven both consumer buying behaviour trends and food policy developments throughout Europe. Microbiological related scares – Salmonella, Campylobacter, Botulism, Listeria, E. coli One of the first major microbiological-related “food scares” reported to have an adverse effect on consumer perceptions and consumption behaviour throughout Europe was the foodborne pathogen of Salmonella. In particular, between the months of May and October in 1988, a number of UK food poisoning incidents were reported from hospitals, city banquets and the House of Lords, each of which were attributed to the consumption of eggs and cheese (Tansey and Worsley, 1999; Atkins and Bowler, 2001). In November 1988, the Department of Health issued a UK warning to the general public to avoid eating raw eggs (Lacey, 1989). One month later, the former UK Health Minister Edwina Currie announced on Independent Television News that the majority of UK egg production was infected with Salmonella. Following a lawsuit by 12 UK egg producers, Edwina Currie MP resigned and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) set aside £20 million to compensate egg producers (Tansey and Worsley, 1999). Salmonella levels in UK-produced eggs are now a third of what they were in 1996 (FSA, 2004). Similarly, Denmark has also witnessed a significant reduction in Salmonella cases related to eggs. Here, 60 per cent of human cases were egg-related in 1997 reducing to 31 per cent in 2002 (Mølbak, 2004). In contrast, Spanish foodborne outbreaks as a result of egg/egg product consumption have not declined since 1998 (Crespo et al., 2005). The main causative agent associated with eggs is the Salmonella serotype Enteritidis. Gillespie and Elson (2005) conclude that the main source of Salmonella Enteritidis infections in northern England in 2005 was due to increased UK imports of Spanish eggs. Other food scares associated with Salmonella Enteritidis were reported in 1998 from Greece (n ¼ 28) and Napoli, Italy (n ¼ 9) the sources being identified as hamburgers and cream cheese (Hadjichristodoulou et al., 1999; Panico et al., 1999) respectively. Twenty-five cases were also reported in the Netherlands in 2004, the cause was identified as contaminated bean sprouts (Fernandes et al., 2000). The second most common salmonella species is Salmonella Typhimurium. In 2000, a European outbreak (n ¼ 396) of this strain occurred in five countries: 184 from Iceland; 165 from the UK (i.e. 141 from England & Wales and 24 from Scotland); 28 from the Netherlands; and 19 from Germany (Crook, 2000). Lettuce was identified as a key source from Iceland, but no single source was identified for all five countries. European food scares 45 Microbiological Contaminants Zoonotic/Epizootic 1988 Salmonella in eggs (UK) – – 1989 Listeria (UK) Alar pesticide (EU) BSE (UK) Salmonella Enteritidis (UK) Sewage contamination of fresh meat (Fr) Botulism in hazelnut puree (UK) 1990 – Benzene in Perrier bottled water (EU) – 1992 Listeria (Fr) – – 1995 Campylobacter (UK) – – E. coli (Sw) 1996 E. coli (UK/Sw) – CJD deaths (UK) FMD (Ty/Gr/Bul) 1998 Salmonella Enteritidis (Gr) – – Salmonella Bongori (It) Botulism (It/Fr/UK/No) 1999 Salmonella Typhimurium (Fr) Dioxins in animal feeds (EU) CJD alert in red wine (Fr) Listeria (Fr) Fungicide/poor carbon dioxide in Coca-Cola (EU) 2000 Salmonella Enteritidis (Ne) – BSE (Fr/Gy/Sp) Salmonella Typhimurium (UK/Ic/Ne/Gy) E. coli (Sp) 2001 Listeriosis (Be) Olive oil contamination (Sp/UK) BSE (It) FMD(UK/Ir/Fr/Ne) 2002 – Nitrofuran in prawns (UK) FMD (UK) Nitrofen in wheat (EU) Acrylamide (EU) 2003 Campylobacter (UK/Sp) Mercury poisoning in swordfish (UK) – E. coli (Dk) Sudan 1 (EU) 2004 E. coli (Dk) Lasalocid in eggs (UK) Avian flu (EU) Salmonella Enteritidis (Ne) PCB’s and dioxins in salmon (UK) Salmonella Bovis-morbificans (Gy) Sudan 1 (EU) 2005 Salmonella Bovis-morbificans (Gy) Sudan 1 (EU) Avian flu (EU) Salmonella Typhimurium (UK/No/Dk/Ne) Para Red (EU) Campylobacter (Dk)/Listeria (Ne) Salmonella Hadar (Sp)/E. coli (Fr) Salmonella Stourbridge (UK/Fr/Swe/Sz/Gy/Au) 2006 Salmonella Montevideo (UK) Benzene in soft drinks (Fr/UK) Dioxins in animal feed (Be/Ne) Avian flu (EU) Table I. Summary of main European food scares BFJ 109,1 46 Another minor scare (n ¼ 6) linked to imported minced beef from Poland was reported in Norway and Denmark in 2005 (Isakbaeva et al., 2005). However, on a much bigger scale, Denmark reported another outbreak (n ¼ 26) that year, the source linked to one pig herd whose pork was prohibited from entering the Danish food chain (Torpdahl et al., 2006). Again in 2005, the Netherlands reported another major outbreak (n ¼ 165), with beef suggested as the likely source (Kivi et al., 2005). Other less common Salmonella organisms have also been linked to food scares throughout Europe. An outbreak (n ¼ 7) of Salmonella Bongori (i.e. one of the rarer serotypes) was reported in Sicily in 1998. This incidence was found to be exclusive to this area of Italy and only pathogenic in young children (Nastasi et al., 1999). The source was linked to both pigeon faeces and two sewage plants. In Germany, between November and March 2005, a major scare transpired involving 525 cases of Salmonella Bovis-morbificans, resulting in the death of one elderly woman (Gilsdorf et al., 2005). The source of the scare was linked to raw minced pork but no similar scares involving the pathogen were recorded in other parts of Europe. Later that year, Spain reported a major food scare involving 2,138 cases of Salmonella Hadar, affecting 17 regions across Spain (Lenglet, 2005). All cases were epidemiologically and microbiologically linked to a single brand of pre-cooked, vacuum-packed roast chicken. To date, only one death has been recorded as a result of the pathogen. Between April-July, 2005 another European-wide food scare relating to Salmonella Stourbridge occurred in France (n ¼ 18), Sweden (n ¼ 6), Switzerland (n ¼ 3), Germany (n ¼ 9), Austria (n ¼ 5) and the UK (n ¼ 3). The suspected source of the outbreak was linked to French goat’s cheese, resulting in two brands being withdrawn from public sale, a public warning in the national press and notices posted at the point of purchase in all French food retailers (Valliant et al., 2005). Switzerland and Sweden subsequently banned imports of both brands of cheese. A recent investigation into a Salmonella Montevideo outbreak (n ¼ 45) was carried out by the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) in June 2006. Subsequently, the HPA alerted the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which then issued a food alert to Cadbury Schweppes Plc, local authorities and consumers (FSA, 2006a). Seven chocolate brands belonging to Cadbury Schweppes Plc were recalled due to possible contamination of Salmonella Montevideo (Vasager, 2006). The source of the national outbreak was linked to a leakage of waste water in one of Cadbury’s production plants. Despite the company maintaining that levels of contamination were well below their own safety level of 10 cells per 100 g, Pennington (2006) argues that the only safe level of Salmonella in chocolate is zero, particularly given the high levels of consumption amongst children. Experts within the independent Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food also criticised Cadbury’s risk assessment procedures for being over-reliant on end-product testing as opposed to carrying out regular checks throughout the manufacturing process (Humphrey, 2006). Campylobacter is t
he most commonly reported bacterial pathogen in the EU, with all EU countries (excluding Spain and Sweden) reporting an increase (i.e. þ32 per cent) in 2004 compared to 2003 (EFSA, 2006). Concerns about the completeness of this data are perhaps warranted, as Italy reported only one case of Campylobacteriosis between 1999 and 2004 (EFSA, 2006). Campylobacter jejuni is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK (Schroder, 2003). Almost 50 per cent of uncooked chicken in England and Wales and just under 75 per cent in Scotland and Northern Ireland was contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni in the mid 1990s (IFST, 1995). In 2004, this European food scares 47 declined to 62 per cent but was still verified as possessing the second highest level (i.e. Ireland possessed the highest level – 77 per cent) of Campylobacter in fresh poultry within the EU (EFSA, 2006). In Spain, Campylobacter organisms are the second most common cause of bacterial foodborne diseases. A key outbreak (n ¼ 81) in Spain was reported in 2003. Although the source of the outbreak was linked to custard, it is believed that cross-contamination occurred with a raw chicken (Jime´nez et al., 2005). Also linked to cross-contamination of raw chicken was a Danish outbreak (n ¼ 79) in 2005 (Mazick et al., 2006). Botulism is a fatal bacterial poison produced by the Bacillus botulinus or Clostridium botulinum organism (Tansey and Worsley, 1999). An outbreak is defined by the occurrence of two or more cases (one or more in France). Notification of the disease varies as notification systems and surveillance differs widely throughout Europe. Several outbreaks have occurred around Europe. During the period between 1988 and 1998, Therre (1999) identified that Italy, France, Spain and Germany were most affected by botulism. For example, in the late 1980’s it occurred in tinned mushrooms and vegetable soup in Italy, shrimps in France and fermented fish in Norway. One of the largest food scares involving botulism occurred in the UK in 1989. Here, 27 people were ill and one person died after consuming hazelnut yoghurt manufactured with cans of hazelnut puree (Brett, 1999). Tests later confirmed that each yoghurt carton comprised between “1750 and 3750 mouse lethal doses” (Pennington, 2003, p. 29). Incidences of botulism have now dramatically reduced. This is mainly due to changes in domestic food practices (i.e. very little home preservation of foods), improved commercial food preservation techniques and industrial food processing. The foodborne transmission of listeriosis possesses a high fatality rate, thus identified as the 2nd leading cause of fatalities from foodborne disease (after Salmonella) in France and 4th in the UK (CEE, 2005). Overall, it is believed that most European countries possess an annual incidence of listeriosis of between 2-10 reported cases per million population per year (CEE, 2005). Those found to be at risk are primarily pregnant women, with the result that government warnings direct pregnant women to avoid paˆte´ and soft-ripened cheeses. Although more commonly found in soft cheese, unpasteurised milk and certain types of seafood, high levels of Listeria monocytogenes in pates have also been associated with the bacterium. In March 1989, imported pates to the UK were screened and high levels of Listeria monocytogenes were identified. Between 1987 and 1989, the number of deaths from listeriosis, rose to 250. France has experienced many outbreaks, one in 1992 killing 63 people (Purvis, 2004) and another in 1999, killing five adults and two newborn babies (De Valk, 2000). Further evidence of the discrepancies in the European-wide surveillance of Listeria monocytogenes is evident by the Netherlands who previously estimated up until 2005 that their annual incidence rate was stable at 2 cases per million population. Having implemented active surveillance of the pathogen in January 2005, they recorded 35 infections in the first half of the year. It is now estimated that their annual incidence rate is closer to 4.3 cases per million population per year (Doorduyn et al., 2006), a figure similar to reported incidences in Denmark (i.e. 4.6 cases per million). E. coli 0157:H7 is a highly virulent organism and impacts most severely on the young and the elderly. Uncooked ground beef has been identified as a common origin of E. coli outbreaks, as is fruits and vegetables that come into contact with cattle faeces BFJ 109,1 48 or with contaminated raw meat (Atkins and Bowler, 2001). Although incidences of E. coli are increasing (Lacey, 1992; Sprenger, 2006), it affects fewer individuals when compared to Salmonella and Campylobacter. Between July 1995 and February 1996, 110 cases of E. coli were reported in Sweden. No deaths occurred but half of all cases were below the age of five (Ziese et al., 1996). Another major E. coli 0157:H7 incident was the 1996 UK-based outbreak in Wishaw, Scotland. Here, a total of 20 people died (mainly aged over 60) and 500 were affected as a result of eating J.M. Barr & Sons’ cooked pies (Pennington, 2003). Eley (1997) identifies Scotland as having the second highest reported rate of E. coli infections in the world (Canada being the highest). Spain also reported a significant outbreak (n ¼ 181), in 2000, affecting 150 schoolchildren and 31 households (Martinez et al., 2001). Although no deaths occurred, the source of infection was linked to sausage from a catering company, which was later closed down. One of the first community-wide outbreaks (n ¼ 26) in France occurred in 2005. Twenty-four of the cases were children aged under nine but no deaths occurred (Valliant, 2005). The source was linked to “Chantegrill” beefburgers, which were later withdrawn from public sale. Similarly, the first general outbreak (n ¼ 25) in Denmark, took place between September 2003 to March 2004. No deaths occurred and the cause was linked to an organic dairy that was later closed down (Jensen et al., 2006). Overall, minimising food-borne microbial pathogens has been a key focus for most European countries, particularly the UK and France where the majority of microbiological-related food scares have occurred. While France continues to permit the sale of unpasteurised milk, the UK Government introduced a partial ban on unpasteurised milk and distributed warning leaflets to consumers via supermarkets about the dangers of consuming raw food (1997). In 1990, 1991 and 1995 respectively they implemented new legislation and Codes of Practice relating to the principles of Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) and temperature control. HACCP principles as a food safety initiative also took place throughout Europe (see EU Directive 93/43). These measures have not only contributed to the reduced number of Listeria cases (Nestle, 2004) but also reflect the growing influence of health on food policy. France being just one example has witnessed a twofold reduction in Listeria-related scares due to such prevention and control measures (De Valk et al., 2005). The US National Research Council concluded also that HACCP was extremely successful in eliminating botulism in canned food products (Nestle, 2004). In 2000, the European Commission updated the original HACCP Directive with a view to minimising food sampling and testing costs (Bernauer and Caduff, 2004). Vos (2000) adds that this move also enables the Commission to shift responsibility for meeting EU Food Law requirements to the food industry, thus moving away from end product testing. Whilst many apportion blame for the rise in foodborne diseases such as Salmonella and Campylobacter to the intensification of agricultural production (Lang and Rayner, 2001; WHO, 2001; Nestle, 2004), the meat industry claims that these pathogens are “natural occurrences” that can best be minimised by improved hygiene practices during manufacturing and processing stages (Harper and Le Beau, 2003). This particular debate manifests itself in terms of the perceived relative risk between on-farm and domestic household contamination and hygiene standards. Thus, it is apparent that a balance is needed between a
commodity and consumer-based policy. European food scares 49 Contaminant-related scares Contaminant based “food scares” relating to the use of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides have occurred in a number of food and drink sectors and appear to be of more concern to consumers compared to hygiene standards and food poisoning (Miles et al., 2004). Miscellaneous contaminant related incidents such as the sewage contamination of fresh meat in France in 1999 and the illegal use of growth hormones have unsettled European consumers’ confidence in meat products (Roosen et al., 2003). Indeed, since the mid 1980s the EU-wide prohibition of growth-promoting hormones in beef production and the use of recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), has seen tensions rise between European and International regulatory bodies (e.g. WTO, Codex Alimentarius Commission). Although the rBST dispute is temporarily resolved, the ban on beef hormones continues (Ansell and Vogel, 2005). Currently, the EU is in the process of undertaking a science-based risk assessment relating to the risk of eating beef that has been produced using these hormones (Millstone and van Zwanenberg, 2003). Similarly, in addition to being an environmental and ethical concern (see Frewer, 1999; Verdurme and Viaene, 2003), contaminant residues from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are another example of a safety issue that has caused tensions between the European Community and International agencies. These prohibitionary measures provide clear evidence of the EU’s commitment to the precautionary principle and its endeavour to appease consumer safety concerns. Antibiotic usage in on-farm production is another contaminant-related concern for consumers. Consequently, many bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to most strains of antibiotics, with human resistance levels generally higher in central and southern Europe compared to northern European countries (Harper and Le Beau, 2003; Johnson, 2005). Two minor incidences recorded in the UK involved the illegal use of Nitrofuran, commonly used by shrimp farms (Purvis, 2004) and the use of Lasalocid, an antibiotic used in UK feedstuffs fed to chickens reared for meat (Soil Association, 2004). As no deaths occurred as a direct result of either antibiotic contaminant, no warnings or regulations were enforced or implemented respectively with regard to future use of either drug. Future consumer concerns over the use of antibiotics may be slightly appeased by the fact that the European Commission has implemented legislation prohibiting the use of antibiotics to control disease (Meikle, 2004). Chemical residues have also caused significant consumer concern. One example is when carcinogenic benzene was identified in Perrier bottled water in 1990. Contaminated bottles were uncovered in the USA, Denmark and the Netherlands (Shears et al., 2001). Contamination levels of 22 parts per billion were reported by the US Food and Drug Administration but were viewed as not presenting a major health risk to consumers (Purvis, 2004). In 1999, Coca-Cola also experienced product contamination, caused by poor quality carbon dioxide and a fungicide residue. Its impact was felt mainly in France and Belgium, with France prohibiting sales of Coca-Cola for over six days (Democracy Now!, 1999) and Belgium recalling over 2.5 million bottles of soft drinks (Herbert, 2001). As a result of drinking the contaminated product, a hundred Belgian people suffered nausea attacks and stomach cramps. Health concerns later spread to Germany and Spain. This resulted in the German government releasing a public warning about the greater risk posed by consuming Coca-Cola that was not manufactured in Germany and a complete withdrawal of imported Coca-Cola products from Spanish retailers (Hays, 1999). The chemical BFJ 109,1 50 analysis later revealed that the risk of consuming poor carbon dioxide would cause nothing more than an unusual smell and therefore ruled the product safe to consume (Purvis, 2004). Similarly, Verbeke and van Kenhove’s (2002, p. 456) describe this scare as nothing more than a “mass sociogenic illness” and that the scale of public concern was motivated by consumers’ lack of trust in the Belgian authorities and their ability to deal with the dioxin scare which occurred ten days previously. This argument may be unobjectionable as traces of benzene were again identified in soft drinks in the UK and France, resulting in the recall of four soft drink products in 2006 (The Grocer, 2006). However, in comparison to the contamination of Coca-Cola in 1999, the impact of the scare was minimal. The UK Food Standards Agency’s survey of 150 products later confirmed that the majority of benzene levels were within the WHO guidelines and that no concerns were posed to human health (FSA, 2006b). In July 2001, Spanish and British consumers’ concerns were raised by a batch of olive oil containing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which can cause cancer (FSA, 2001). The Spanish government introduced a temporary ban on olive-pomace oil. However, it later became apparent that one of the affected batches was produced in Greece and sold in the UK and the other originated from Italy. The FSA later withdrew Spanish olive pomace oils and pomace oil products in response to the Spanish reports. In 2002, acrylamide, a carcinogenic substance was confirmed as occurring in specific starch-rich foodstuffs that were processed at high temperatures (e.g. potato crisps, French fries, crispbreads). In contrast to most European food authorities who have adopted “a wait and see approach”, the German government introduced a “minimisation concept”, which aimed to reduce the levels of acrylamide in foods (Euromonitor, 2003). Pesticide residues in food are another contaminant-related topic that has caused concern for both European and International consumers (Huang, 1993; The Co-op, 2001). A major crisis highlighted in 1989 concerned the pesticide Alar that is commonly used on apples and apple products (O’Herrmann et al., 1997). Despite rulings from the United Nations and MAFF press statements concluding that Alar was not carcinogenic, both the USA and the UK banned the pesticide (Fumento, 1999; Hoskins, 1999). Government withdrawal was made easier by the fact that Uniroyal, its manufacturer withdrew the product due to the negative press coverage. In 2002, Nitrofen, an illegal pesticide-related scare was highly publicised in Germany. Its coverage was heightened given that its use was linked to 550 tonnes of organic wheat. Despite the pesticide having been banned in Europe since 1988, the cross-contamination from storage scare led to a major loss of consumer confidence in organic poultry. German supermarkets immediately withdrew organic eggs and poultry-based products. Export markets to Denmark, Netherlands and Austria were also affected (Organic Monitor, 2002). More recently, new consumer concerns are being expressed towards the synergistic effects (i.e. “cocktail effect”) of different pesticide residues (Luijk et al., 2000). Due to pressure from non-governmental bodies (e.g. organic certification agencies, Sustain, Pesticides Action Network, etc.), the farming sector has also recently moved towards more efficient production practices such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Crop Management (ICM) programmes. These minimisation policies have been communicated to consumers via a range of industry-led, quality assurance schemes (e.g. Eurepgap). Many European countries have also implemented training and licensing programme for producers, designed to European food scares 51 improve product safety and the environmental impact of pesticides. Since 1996, the European Commission has operated an EU-wide monitoring programme in order to assess dietary pesticide exposure (see Commission Directive 2002/63/EC). Here, consumer safety concerns are driving both private and public sectors’ policies on pesticides. Other chemical-related scares include dioxin-contaminated foods and poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in food (Sta¨rk et al., 2002; Brimer, 2004).
The main sources of human exposure to these compounds are via consumption of foodstuffs high in fat such as meat, fish, milk, dairy and oily fish (Schro˝der, 2003). In 1999, a PCB and dioxin-contaminated batch of transformer oil entered the food chain via an animal feed mill in Belgium (Shears et al., 2001). This was then fed to broilers and subsequently recycled into pig-feed, thus affecting poultry, eggs, pork and bacon products. Analyses revealed dioxin levels exceeded the legal standards by as much as 1,500 times for chicken fat (Verbeke, 2001). Overall, despite significant dioxin levels in animal feedstuffs and meat tissue, the impact on consumers was minimal. Its impact however, was felt throughout Europe with exports of pork and poultry being halted from Belgium, France, Holland and Germany (Herbert, 2001). Dutch and Belgian pig and poultry farms were again placed under quarantine due to another dioxin scare in January 2006. A random test on Dutch pork revealed the meat as being tainted with the chemical, forcing the Belgian and Dutch authorities to place restrictions on 307 and 275 pig/poultry farms (Smith, 2006). With the source of the dioxin linked to feed ingredients, restrictions were later lifted in February 2006. No pig/poultry meat was recalled and only South Korea banned the import of pork as a result of the scare (Judge, 2006). In 2004, another dioxin contamination and PCB scare was identified in Scottish farmed salmon. Here, American academics published research which benchmarked residue levels of farmed salmon against EPA standards and found significantly higher levels of dieldrin, lindane, dioxins and PCBs than found in wild salmon, all of which could potentially trigger cancer in humans (MacLeod, 2004; Lang, 2004). Prior to this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that children’s consumption of farmed salmon should be limited as toxins in the animal feed could potentially damage children’s brains (Fracassini, 2001). Scottish Quality Salmon (a trade organisation which represents approximately 75 per cent of Scotland’s salmon producers) disagreed with the US findings and argued that contamination levels fell within the levels set by the WHO and the European Commission (Purvis, 2004). Despite reports of an increased risk from pollutants (Harper and Le Beau, 2003) regarding farmed fish consumption across Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, 2005) advised consumers to continue eating two portions of oily fish per week. This perpetuated a balanced approach to food advice, which accommodated both a contaminant-based risk assessment and healthy eating priorities. Another contaminant-related “food scare” recently experienced and currently ongoing throughout the European food chain is the Sudan 1 incident (as at January 2006). Due to its recent occurrence, no relevant academic or scientific literature as yet exists. Illegal presence of the dye Sudan 1 in foods was reported initially in May, 2003. The origin of contaminated processed products has in the main occurred within the EU, but the primary origin is perceived to be via the use of contaminated raw products from outside the EU, for example, India, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt (EFSA, 2005). In the UK, more than 400 products were removed from supermarket shelves and more BFJ 109,1 52 than 300 food producers were believed to be involved (Mowbray, 2005). The UK-based company Premier Foods is largely blamed by the food industry after a carcinogenic ingredient within Worcester sauce was identified in approximately 580 products (Balchin and McLelland, 2005). Since 2003, all batches of chilli powder imported into Europe have been required to be tested for Sudan 1. However, significant doubts have been raised as to the efficacy of the testing and certification regimes adopted by the food-manufacturing sector (Watson, 2005). This doubt may be warranted as the affected batch in question was supplied in 2002 and stockpiles of affected product may still be in circulation (Mowbray, 2005). A Dutch laboratory (Euroma) identified Para Red, another dye believed to be structurally similar to Sudan 1 (i.e. similar genotoxic and carcinogenic effects), in General Mill’s “Old El Paso” brand (Barnes, 2005b). Up to May, 2005, 69 products containing traces of Para Red had been recalled in Europe (Whitworth and Harrington, 2005). Policy measures for dealing with illegal contaminants appear to differ widely across Europe. For example, the UK’s FSA operates a zero-tolerance policy to illegal dyes in comparison to the Dutch authorities that calculate an individual risk assessment for each offence (Barnes, 2005b). Moreover, differences were identified between each European country’s approach to Sudan 1, with the UK, Sweden, Denmark and France adopting public recalls of products, while The Netherlands, Germany and Spain chose trade withdrawals, thus minimising publicity (Barnes, 2005a). The EFSA’s (2005, p. 1) response having conducted a review of a number of illegal dyes found in foodstuffs throughout the EU concluded that there was insufficient data “to perform a full risk assessment”. EFSA is currently working towards EU-state harmonisation of risk assessment and testing methodologies. Animal disease related scares – BSE, nvCJD, foot & mouth disease, avian influenza The main animal disease-related food scare across Europe remains BSE. However, it is also observed that some epizootic-related incidents (i.e. widespread disease in populations of animals rather than humans) such as foot and mouth disease (FMD) and avian influenza have caused significant food scare-type reactions to food commodities from consumers. Scientifically speaking, FMD and avian influenza pose no known risk to human health (Lowe, 2001; Hickman, 2005), but their inclusion here is arguably necessary given the declining buying behaviour of European consumers in response to such events (MLC, 2001; TNS, 2001, 2005; Corbett, 2005; Ross, 2005). As highlighted previously, BSE was not the first food scare to affect food safety on a European scale, but it is commonly regarded as the “trigger” for the reform of existing legislation and the establishing of new regulatory institutions across Europe (Millstone and van Zwanenberg, 2003; Ansell and Vogel, 2005). BSE first appeared in the UK in November 1986. It is a progressive and fatal neurological disorder that mainly affects adult cattle and has an incubation period averaging between four and five years (Palmer, 1996; Lien and Nerlich, 2004). Subsequently, 168,000 UK cases were confirmed between November 1986 and May 1996, affecting 35,042 farms (European Commission, 2000a; Shears et al., 2001; Nestle, 2004). Its impact was felt mainly in the dairy sector, affecting 60 per cent of dairy herds compared to only 15 per cent of beef herds (Palmer, 1996). In 1996, an expert committee of scientists announced that a human variant of a disease, identified as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD) could be linked to BSE in cattle (Shears et al., 2001; Lindgreen, 2003). However, a relatively low number of individuals European food scares 53 are currently reported as being directly affected by nvCJD (Harvey et al., 2001; Van Zwanenberg and Millstone, 2003). Various explanations have been provided as to the cause of the disease. For example, the use of animal feed prepared from other ruminants and the reduction of temperatures during feedstuff preparation, thus allowing the prions responsible for causing BSE to transfer from contaminated carcasses to healthy cows (Loader and Hobbs, 1996; Pennington, 2003; Schro˝der, 2003; Lien and Nerlich, 2004). Indeed, this practice significantly contributed to the European-wide spread of BSE in cattle (Carter and Huie, 2004). Table II illustrates a comparative viewpoint relating to the number of BSE cases identified across Europe. Although Finland and Greece have reported only one BSE case to date, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta (i.e. all of which joined the EU in 2004), Norway and Sweden are the only countries not to have confirmed cases of BSE (HetNet, 2006). Due to limited surveillance/reporting system
s, information from EU countries set to join the EU in 2007/08 (i.e. Bulgaria, Romania) is not yet available. Table II shows that considerably more cases of BSE have been confirmed in the UK compared to other European countries. Nonetheless, given the European-wide incidences of BSE cases, numerous policy and legal initiatives were implemented both at UK and EU level (Hobbs et al., 2002). In July 1988, the UK government banned the use of ruminant proteins in cattle feed and in November 1989 banned the use of brain, spinal cord, spleen and intestines (i.e. specified risk material) from cattle in foods for human consumption. Consequently, the European Commission introduced a ban on the export of bovine animals, semen/embryos, mammalian meat and bone-meal and beef/beef products from the UK. In 1996, the UK government introduced a slaughter programme for all cattle aged over 30 months (OTMS), to keep meat from older cattle out of the food chain. This accounted for the removal of over 1.2 million cattle in the first year of the scheme (McDonald and Roberts, 1998). The European Commission put similar control measures in place. This included higher processing standards for the treatment of animal waste in 1997 and implementation of surveillance measures for the Confirmed BSE cases 1995 1996 1997 2000 2003 2004 2005 Total since 1987 UK 14,562 8,149 4,393 1,333 611 398 184 182,583 Belgium 0 0 1 9 15 11 2 131 France 3 12 6 162 137 54 28 974 Ireland (Rep.) 16 74 80 152 182 126 61 1,541 Northern Ireland 170 81 28 76 62 34 16 2,136 Portugal 15 31 30 136 133 92 33 985 Germany 0 0 2a 7 54 65 30 393 Italy 0 0 0 0 31 7 8 134 Spain 0 0 0 2 167 137 75 609 Switzerland 68 45 38 33 21 3 3 459 Denmark 0 0 0 1 2 1 1 15 The Netherlands 0 0 2 1 19 6 3 80 Czech Republic – – – – 4 7 8 23 Poland – – – – 5 11 17 37 Slavakia – – – – 2 7 1 20 Notes: a Imported animal; – Limited surveillance information Sources: Adapted from Defra (2006); HetNet (2006) Table II. The number of confirmed BSE cases across Europe BFJ 109,1 54 detection and control of BSE in 1998 (Food Law Monthly, 2001). By the end of 1998, the BSE crisis had subsided in the UK (Watson, 2003). The OTMS scheme was lifted by the UK government in November 2005 and older cattle entering the food chain now undergo a BSE positive release testing regime (SEERAD, 2005). However, a statutory ban is now in place on cattle born or reared in the UK before 1996, from entering the food chain. FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals (e.g. cattle, pigs, sheep). Between 2000-2001, European cases of FMD had been identified in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, France, The Netherlands, the UK and Ireland. The Pirbright Laboratory traced the source of these outbreaks to a PanAsia outbreak in northern India in 1990 (Crace, 2001). One of the largest European outbreaks took place in the UK, resulting in the slaughter of over 10 million animals and a total cost of £4 billion (Maxwell, 2002). The source of the outbreak and the scale of infected animals was strongly linked to imported produce and production-related practices respectively (Alston and McDougal, 2001; Nestle, 2004). As many countries prohibited the export of European meat, a number of policy measures (e.g. killing of infected animals and animals which came in contact with sick animals; quarantine of communities living in the vicinity of affected animals), were introduced at EU level to control the disease. Pennington (2003) criticised the UK governments’ role in managing and controlling the disease and claimed that as in the case of BSE, specialist scientists were excluded from the policy-making process. In comparison to Holland’s FMD outbreak, which was declared over in 35 days, the UK regained its disease-free status in January 2002, (Lien and Nerlich, 2004). To maintain this status, the EU has recently tightened restrictions and banned beef imports on beef imports from Brazil and Argentina respectively (Porter, 2006). One of the most recent animal disease-related issues currently affecting the global poultry industry is the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. This epidemic has been spreading since 1997 when the virus first appeared in Hong Kong. Two years later, the virus reappeared in South Korea and subsequently spread to eight eastern Asian countries (Lean and Carrell, 2005). From north-western China, infected birds followed their migratory route across Siberia. Consequently, in the autumn of 2005, H5N1 appeared on the borders of Europe in Romania, Turkey and Croatia (Nicoll, 2005). H5N1 has been transmitted from birds to humans, but only in isolated cases involving occupations who have had direct contact with birds (e.g. poultry farmers, abattoir workers, vets). To date, 174 human cases have been identified in Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Turkey, Thailand and Vietnam, of which 93 were fatal (WHO, 2006). As the potential spread of the H5N1 virus became more apparent, the EU implemented an import ban in 2005 on live birds, meat and eggs from outside countries. Additionally, the European Commission implemented legislation (2005/745/EC) to restrict the keeping of poultry outdoors if judged to be at risk from avian influenza as well as stipulating that if in the case of an outbreak, all infected animals must be destroyed and the farms quarantined (RTD, 2006). As a precautionary measure to protect poultry from migratory birds flying in from the Russian Federation, where cases had been identified, government officials in The Netherlands ordered poultry producers to keep all birds inside (The Grocer, 2005). Despite these control measures, 13 EU countries (Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, the UK, France, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Germany) have now detected avian European food scares 55 influenza type H5 in wild birds to date (Eurosurveillance, 2006). In Germany, a dead cat also tested positive for the H5N1 virus. As a result of both media attention and confirmed outbreaks throughout Europe, the Dutch poultry sector has reported a 20 per cent decrease in turnover and the European Egg, Poultry & Game Association has reported a 10 per cent fall in sales (Corbett, 2005). In comparison to the UK where a decline in poultry consumption has been minimal, France and Italy have witnessed a 20 per cent and 30-40 per cent decline in poultry consumption respectively (IGD, 2006). Due to the reoccurrence of H5N1 outbreaks in some affected countries (e.g. Romania), it is vital that European-wide surveillance and testing programmes for wild/domestic birds continue on a harmonised basis over the next few years. Food scares: implications for EU food policy In view of the societal impact and recurring nature of these food crises, it is no surprise that since the 1980s, food safety has become an issue of intense public concern. Moreover, food safety is now viewed by many as not just a scientific matter but also a “highly political issue” (Smith, 1991; Pennington, 2003, p. 25; Lien and Nerlich, 2004, p. 1; Nestle, 2004, p. 1). Consequently, throughout the latter half of the 1990s, food safety was notably prominent on the political agenda in the UK, throughout Europe (Atkins and Bowler, 2001). A key response to the aforementioned European food scares has been the creation of institutions responsible for the implementation and verification of food standards (Renard, 2005). Indeed, safety and transparency formed the basis for the creation of regulatory systems for food as early as the nineteenth century (Lien and Nerlich, 2004). In almost every EU country, government motivations for the creation of such agencies are attributed to declining consumer trust (Poppe and Kjaernes, 2003; Berg et al., 2005). For example, after the Belgian dioxin food scare in 1999, a Federal Agency for the Security of the Food Chain (AFSCA) was created in Belgium and a new Agency called Agence Francaise de Securite Sanitaire des Ailments (AFSSA) was created in France (Ansell and Vogel, 1999). In the case of the UK, Sassatelli and Scott (2001, p. 220) refer to British consumers as possessing “disembedded trust” (i.e
. a universalistic and institutional-based distrust) as opposed to “traditional” and “localised” distrust regimes commonly found in Italy and Austria. Consequently, the UK established The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2000, an agency independent of government with its main initial remit being for food safety (Shears et al., 2001). No new regulatory institution was established in Germany, but one reaction of policy makers to the emergence of BSE was the re-naming of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry to the “Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture” in 2001 (Ansell and Vogel, 2005). Although previously criticised for its “ad hoc approach to the formulation of a European food policy” (Knowles, 2001, p. 180), the European Commission also identified food safety as a key policy priority in response to the BSE crisis (European Commission, 2000b), and in 2003 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was created with a clear focus on the consumer as opposed to the product/market, though not in the areas of nutrition and diet. Overall, the aforementioned range of food scares presents significant criticisms and challenges for EU Food Policy. The key response since 1990 is marked by the convergence of two projects: the establishment of EU food policy and the development of a EU Consumer policy. Before 1995, the Commission services already imagined the BFJ 109,1 56 preparation of a general horizontal food law directive (Ottaway, 1995). A consumer policy was also supported to enhance consumer confidence in cross-border trade. But there was no clear link between these intentions. In 1997, the main responsibilities for food issues were transferred to a Directorate General for the protection of consumers that did not exist just a few years before (see EUROPA, 1999). Food policy development: an example of the influence of food scares The following example helps illustrate this bargaining between the EU institutions: the Commission; Parliament; the Council of Ministers, and their relationship with the evolution of a consumerist food policy. On 2 October, 1996 the Commission submitted two proposals for regulations, one establishing a system for the identification and registration of bovine animals and the other regarding the labelling of beef and beef products. Those two proposals were based on Article 43 of the EC Treaty. Article 43 constitutes the legal basis for all rules concerning the production and marketing of agricultural products such as “beef” listed in Annex II of the Treaty and which contributes to the implementation of the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Four months later, the proposals were debated in a plenary session of the European Parliament. After examination, the European Parliament adopted an amendment designed to substitute Article 100a for Article 43. Article 100a is the legal basis when the aim and content of a regulation is the protection of public health or the consumer protection. This substitution would have been a matter of procedure if it did not imply a change of decision procedure. By changing article 43 into article 100a the proposals were placed under the “co-decision procedure” instead of the “consultation procedure”. In the co-decision procedure the European Parliament co-decides with the Council while in the consultation procedure the Council decides and the European Parliament opinion is only consultative. The Commission accepted some of the European Parliament amendments and merged the two proposals in one single amended proposal on the basis of Article 100a (co-decision). But a few months later, the Council re-amended the legal basis in favour of Article 43 (consultation) and in April 1997 unanimously adopted the regulation. The Commission brought an action for the annulment of the regulation before the European Court of Justice. The justification of the Commission was the following: although beef is listed in Annex II of the Treaty and consequently part of a common organisation of the market, the main aim of the regulation is not an objective of agricultural policy but an aim of protection of human health, especially in the background of the BSE crisis. The Commission recognised that “labelling” had no direct link with health protection, but as reported in the European Court report, claimed that “in the present case” (i.e. after BSE crisis), the measures taken were intended solely to provide consumers with information on the origin of the product and therefore certain characteristics of the production to assure that the product posed no risk to their health. The Commission insisted that the particular context was responsible for this regulation and therefore it should have been based on 100a. The European Parliament in supporting the Commission’s request went further, establishing a link between labelling and consumer health that the Commission had not dared to make. For the European Parliament, the “principal, if not sole, aim was to create an uninterrupted chain which enables the consumer to check each individual stage of the process from the origin to consumption”. For its defence, the Council European food scares 57 protested that the voluntary regulation did not primarily seek to protect human health but rather aimed to restore consumer confidence in both the market and its products in order to encourage stability in a market thrown into crisis by BSE. The protection of human and animal health was a “secondary” aim of the Regulation. This justified why, for the Council, it was rightly based on Article 43 and not on Article 100a. The Court of Justice gave reason to the Commission and concluded that the regulation should have been placed under both articles, and not just on Article 43, and annulled the Council Regulation (EC) No 820/97 but preserved its effects until new rules were established on the subject. What this example demonstrates is that at a certain point of EU history there was no other possibility but to prioritise objectives previously indiscernible: consumer or market. If in the official discourse “consumer interests” had always been considered compatible with producer interests in the single market, this was not the case anymore. At the time of the hearing before the European Court of Justice, all parties finally agreed that the regulation should have been based on both Articles 43 and 100a. One wonders why at the time of the making of regulation this option was not retained and no consensual position emerged. By examining the amendments of the first parliamentary reading session, it appears that the most contentious issues between the institutions were whether or not labelling should be made optional or compulsory and whether or not the name of the country had to be reported in the label addressed to the final consumer. EU policy: market- or consumer-driven? Interestingly, this debate between market and consumer strikes at the heart of the European Union. In a single European market where all goods are free to circulate, the Commission did at first not see any justification to oblige producers to label beef with the name of country of origin, therefore it supported a “EU label”, and based its first version of the proposal on Article 43. The Council also shared this position and supported an optional rather than compulsory system of country identification. The European Parliament Committee integrated the position as a market-oriented strategy to allow BSE-affected countries to hide behind anonymous labels, while at the same time “BSE free” countries (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay) would be given a market advantage by putting their name on their beef products. For the European Parliament, this unfair option based on the ignorance of the consumer was unacceptable. The European Parliament went even further, asking for the extension of labelling to processed goods containing beef and beef products “within one year of the entry into force of the regulation”. The Commission proposed a transitory period where the system would be optional until it would becom
e compulsory. To conclude this example, the Council interrupted the process of co-decision in changing the basis of the Treaty, voted on its own a regulation that retained the optional labelling with name of country until 2000 when the system was set to become compulsory. By interrupting the procedure, the Council did not succeed in avoiding the establishment of a compulsory system of identification, only to postpone it. The Council lost the judgment and had to pay the costs of the court procedure. But the regulation was not withdrawn and was left in place for implementation from 2000. BFJ 109,1 58 Conclusions and avenues of future research The European Parliament is now prioritising the consumer at the economic heart of the single market. Undoubtedly, BSE has to some extent been both pedagogic and cathartic and “demonstrates the full panoply of the Parliament’s post-Maastricht powers” (Westlake, 1997). It also provided the European Parliament with the opportunity to affirm its role as defender of the consumer, fully using its new-found Maastricht Treaty powers to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration” in relation to BSE. Whatever the economic and administrative difficulties that existed in setting up a reliable compulsory labelling system, the European Parliament supported it and proposed the enlargement of the system to label beef derived food products. This introduced into the debate the threat of enlargement to all meat products and not just beef products. The European Parliament sent a clear signal to the two other main actors of regulation (i.e. European Commission, European Council) that from then on (1997) it will closely monitor decisions taken in the agriculture sector. In the European Parliament, traceability and labelling became tools for consumer control over all steps of the food chain. Indeed, the Council Regulation (EC) No 820/97 was implemented to “enable the consumer to check each individual stage of the process from the origin to consumption”). Whatever the practicability of such a statement, it seems unprecedented that at the level of decision making, a regulation is envisaged to be a means of direct control by consumers on “economic actors”. Throughout the EU, and in part as a direct result of the ongoing impact of food scares upon consumer opinions, food can no longer be treated merely as a market commodity. The complexity of this situation has led to the need for research into the maximisation of consumer satisfaction by reinsuring their individual “right to choose”. Emphasis to date has been on flexible and general solutions of which improved labelling was one. Giving consumers the right to choose, if exercised presents them with responsibility for the implications of that choice, However, within the context of an increasingly complex food chain and a growing asymmetry of information on the food label between producers and consumers, this “right” may not significantly enhance choice benefits. Such a concern is compounded if either national or EU governmental bodies fail to adequately communicate the risk involved and/or if the consumer does not fully understand the concept of risk in relation to food. Factors such as the intensification of primary food production, increased consumption of ready-meals in food service and in the home, along with rising incidences of environmental pollution, indicate in the eyes of some commentators that further “food scares” are inevitable (Beardsworth, 1990; Scythe, 2005). Consequently, this gives rise to new demands for complete and proactive surveillance reporting systems across Europe on all aspects of disease (i.e. bacterial, contaminants, zoonotic, epizootic). More importantly, dissemination of such information is crucial for European consumers to make informed food purchase choices. Given European consumers’ negative perceptions of epizootic-related scares such as FMD and avian flu, future research may wish to investigate the impact of such scares upon consumer perceptions and buying behaviour. Moreover, explicit investigations into the aforementioned food scares and their cumulative impact on food purchase behaviour could help further understanding of consumer responses to food scares and consequently how EU policy may be framed to improve choice for consumers. European food scares 59 Notes 1. MAFF has now been re-structured and is now known as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). 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