Wetenschap - 10 oktober 2013

‘Don’t run to the government for every triviality’

Albert Sikkema

The meat sector in the Netherlands has been complaining that the government’s monitoring of food safety is inadequate. But a top man at the Rabobank says the meat sector should take more of the responsibility itself. So who is really responsible for food safety and tracking down food fraud? The government or the market sector?

‘Monitoring of food safety should be done by an impar­tial body,’ says food technologist Tiny van Boekel. ‘You might well ask whether that is the case at present. Because of budget cuts the NVWA [the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, ed.] has to work with inspectors from the companies. I think that brings us to the edge of what is acceptable. If you think monitoring should be more impartial, you shouldn’t economize so much on the NVWA.

Should companies take more responsibility themselves, as the Rabobank has suggested?

‘I agree that the meat sector is not transparent enough. I think transparency would deal with the criticism that comes from activist groups and television programmes such as Zembla. It would mean a slaughterhouse or purchaser using track & trace to find out where the problem is and show how it is being addressed. And it would mean showing what happens in the factory. A lot of people don’t want to know how meat processing works and that it necessitates killing animals. Just show it.’

What is the role of the government then?

‘I think the roles of government and market need to be differentiated more clearly. The impartial monitoring by the NVWA is one of the government’s basic tasks. Beyond that you should place the responsibility with the producer and the consumer. Now people run to the government for new rules to cover every trifle. You shouldn’t try to cover all possible risks.’