For consumers, the value of foodstuffs partly depends on how much confidence they have in the safety of those foods. Transparency and information are therefore cornerstones of modern consumer policy.
What matters is effective cooperation between science, industry and public authorities. In Germany, there is a food safety network in place in which each actor has a specific role to play.
All the regulations, acts and decisions on which food safety measures are based are shaped in pursuit of three main objectives:
- Protection of health: Only safe foods may be offered for sale.
- Protection of consumers from deception.
- Providing the public with proper information.
These objectives are enshrined both in German and in European law. With the basic principles of food safety, early and rapid alert systems, field monitoring and international cooperation, policy-makers have effective instruments at their disposal in order to safeguard a high level of food safety. To this end, a Europe-wide and internationally agreed quality assurance system for foodstuffs has been put into place. The BMEL and its subordinate authorities ensure, for example, that risks are continuously assessed and that the legislation and structures are constantly brought into line with new findings.
Authorities work hand in hand
The BMEL provides valuable support here by proposing necessary legislative initiatives, for example. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), two authorities within the BMEL's remit, are also important partners for the federal states (Länder). In its capacity as a risk management authority, the BVL coordinates nationwide food monitoring programmes and analyses the data. The BfR conducts scientific risk assessments of food, feed and other substances and communicates this to consumers independently of politics.
Targeted food monitoring on the ground
Food monitoring is the responsibility of the federal states. The authorities on the ground monitor both the businesses and the foodstuffs produced there. By adopting a risk-based approach, checks are focused on where violations of food law tended to occur most frequently in the past. This is to ensure that the official food control and inspection service makes the best use of its resources with a view to safeguarding safe and high-quality foodstuffs. Almost one million official controls are carried out every year, with over 400,000 samples being examined in laboratories.
Clear labelling protects against deception
Labels with information on ingredients and nutritional values help consumers in their purchasing decisions whilst offering details about the properties of a foodstuff. This transparency and information provides clear added value for consumers.
Clear labelling protects consumers from deception and fraud. Manufacturers are required to include a range of particulars (e.g. the ingredients and best-before date) on the label in a conspicuous and clearly legible manner.
Dialogue between consumers and industry
Within the scope of the "Transparency and Truth in Food Labelling and Presentation" initiative, the BMEL is promoting an internet portal by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv). The "lebensmittelklarheit.de" portal was launched in early July 2011. Here, consumers can obtain information about the fundamentals of food labelling and discuss any questions they might have. If consumers find the presentation of a foodstuff misleading, they can bring up the specific example for discussion in this portal. The manufacturer of the product is given the opportunity to respond.
Research on agriculture and nutrition
Through its results and findings, research on agriculture and nutrition also makes a contribution to the continued evolution of food safety. It ensures that the measures for guaranteeing a safe, healthy and balanced diet are always based on the latest scientific evidence.
Within the BMEL's remit, four federal research centres lay the scientific groundwork for decisions in food, agricultural, forestry, fisheries and consumer policies. The Max Rubner Institute (MRI) deals with questions and projects relating to nutrition and foodstuffs.