The identification of food and ingredient sources is of prime importance to the protection of consumers. Traceability provides customers with accurate information concerning products they purchase. It also ensures a quick, targeted government intervention in case of any sanitary outbreak.
French food safety principles follow rules set up by the European Commission, but how are these principles enforced in France?
What does traceability mean?
Traceability is defined by Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 of the European Parliament as “the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food-producing animal, or substance intended to be or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing, and distribution.”
This means that one should be able to identify a food product and its ingredients anywhere, from the fields to the supermarket. It also means that businesses are required to be able to identify the immediate supplier of the product in question and the subsequent recipient, with the exemption of retailers to final consumers. Importers are similarly affected, as they will be required to identify from whom the product was exported in the country of origin.
As food products are likely to be exported throughout Europe under free trade, European countries follow uniform directives defined by the European Commission in the White Paper on Food Safety. Each country is responsible for enforcement on its territory. In France, the Directorate General for Food (DGAL) and the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs, and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) act as the enforcement bodies.
Key figures about DGAL controls (2012)
Sanitary controls on food:
- 86,239 inspections (documentary-based and/or on-site) including: 38,362 in factories and school cafeterias and restaurants, 18,558 in the retail sector. 104 million tons of products were seized.
- 64,223 samples collected under monitoring and control plans.
Sanitary controls on livestock:
- 149,994 official checks on livestock in farms or during transport
French cattle traceability
Four main elements comprise cattle traceability:
- Identification of the animal at farm: every animal is given a number by the EDE, the departmental breeding institute. Each animal also has to wear two ear tags with a 10-number code. The first two numbers indicate the land department, and the last eight are the animal’s identification number. Each animal is registered in a farm book which gives their dates of birth and entries and exits from the farm. Animals are inscribed on a national identification database which gathers products related to the animal.
- Cattle passport sums up on the animal’s history.
- Slaughter number, given to every animal, and batch number for its products. These are provided after a sanitary inspection of the carcass and offal at the slaughterhouse. These numbers must be written on the invoice of the cattle.
- Labels on fresh meat. Since 1998, it has been compulsory to indicate the following on meat-product labels: batch number, country and numbers of the slaughterhouse and of the cutting plant. Since 2002, the place of birth, the place of breeding, and the place of slaughter must also be included.