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Germany

Germany calls on its population to 'pillory' food fraud on special website

Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner is planning to launch an Internet platform on which people will be able to report fraudulently labeled food products. The aim is to curb fraud, but food producers are fuming.

Packaged meat in a supermarket

Labels on packaged foods may be misleading

The German government announced on Wednesday the launch of a new website to allow citizens to report food fraud.

The site should be up and running by March, 2011, according to Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner, who said the project was intended to "promote a discourse between the public and the food industry that is long overdue."

"What's in a product must be identified on the label," the minister told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday, citing a number of examples in which foodstuffs were "fraudulently labeled."

"A yogurt purporting to contain real fruit, musn't solely be made of artificial fruit flavoring," Aigner said. "We want to know if people consider this to be a fraud, and if they want us to act against the producer."

Dubious technologies

The announcement comes after a series of public revelations about modern technologies used in the growing convenience food market.

Aigner demanded more transparency in the food industry, saying producers should call a spade a spade.

The consumer affairs minister said Germans should be aware, for example, that the "cheese" on packaged pizzas is often so-called analogue cheese - a mixture of soybeans, nutritional yeasts and other non-dairy ingredients.

Piece of pizza

The cheese on this pizza may or may not be real

Even grocery-store versions of the cherished German dish schnitzel were cast in ugly doubt as it became known that some companies produce them from snippets of calf meat held together by an organic glue.

Audacious step

German consumer advocacy groups welcomed Aigner's decision to make food fraud public.

Foodwatch Germany considers the government website "to be of essential importance" in its efforts "to make food production more transparent."

"The government has finally acknowledged that consumers here are being grossly cheated in supermarkets," said Matthias Wolfschmidt, a spokesman for the non-profit organisation.

The advocacy groups also hope the decision will rein in labeling fraud in the organic food sector, where sharply rising imports have recently cast doubts on whether the higher-priced foods are really produced in an environmentally friendly manner.

Industrial worries

Germany's food industry, meanwhile, has come out against the new Internet portal, which they have deemed an "unlawful act, which will pillory producers without scientific proof."

Industry representatives say there are already more than enough authorities officially charged with maintaining food security and that any alleged violations "must be sorted out in the courts."

"It's impossible for a country based on the rule of law to permit a public Internet platform where people who feel cheated are allowed to tarnish [companies'] images", said Andrea Moritz, a spokesman for the food industry lobby group, BLL.

Ministerial determination

Picture of Ilse Aigner

Consumer Affairs Minister, Ilse Aigner is determined to improve food safety

Yet Consumer Affairs Minister Aigner is determined to push ahead in her drive for more transparency in the food sector.

Just last month she announced an initiative to promote hygenic standards in German restaurants.

She said health inspectors would in the future be allowed to paste frowning faces on the doors of restaurants where they have found mouse droppings, mouldy meat or cockroaches, as a way to warn potential customers about hygienic shortcomings.

Author: Uwe Hessler (AP,dpa,AFP)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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