Food Controls and False Labeling | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 04.11.2013
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Tomorrow Today

Food Controls and False Labeling

We'll be talking to our studio guest Prof. Alfonso Lampen from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

Watch video 03:36
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03:36 mins.


How risky is it actually to go shopping in a German supermarket?

Alfonso Lampen:
It is not risky in Germany but also in Europe, because the food safety standard is very high. So you can expect safe foods in the supermarket.

But still we had things like horse meat in lasagna. What went wrong?

The producers – this is really consumer fraud, I think. Because normally we have in lasagna the meat we expect. But you see in this example that food control is very important. And food control should be able to use DNA test systems to detect the right DNA.

And with these new DNA tests we’ve just heard about in the report – could you actually detect everything that shouldn’t be in this product?

Qualitatively, you can detect almost everything. But it has some pitfalls because it takes a little bit more time. In the report, I think actually you needed about one week for the result. So you need more time. And this is, I think, actually not the solution. But the vision is very good.

So that means for us consumers, we usually just find out that last week we ate something which might have been poisoned. That can’t be the way…

You can’t be safe for 100 percent, but the food control, it controls producers where they expect something may be wrong very often. They use, actually we have very good modern, molecular biology DNA techniques. And when these techniques are used, I think one day we can detect almost everything.

And what about the amount of the contamination? Can you also find out about that?

This is a problem, actually, for the techniques that we use – but also for this new technique, that the quantification is the main problem. And here, I think we need a solution in the next years.

Now the end of next year, actually, all the food producers will have to show and declare exactly all the contents on the package. Will that bring more transparency and also more honesty into the food business?

It brings a little bit more transparency, but I think it will not completely change anything here, because the consumer has to read a long list. But I’m not sure if the consumer understands this very long list.

And what does the consumer actually want? He wants to find out whether there’s a risk for health, right?

A declaration has nothing to do with risk. The food at the European market is safe. The producers have to guarantee that the product is safe. So the people at the supermarket can expect safe foods in Europe.

So finding out about content is more actually knowing what we eat, and maybe being aware of certain substances for allergies or anything.

Yes, it’s transparency – to know what you buy, to know what is in the food.