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The film written down: quotes and voice-over


In China in 2008, milk which was contaminated with melamine killed at least six babies and sent more than 50,000 children to hospital. Why, despite the intensity of world trade, did Europe escape a similar fate?


This is Le Havre. Europe's fifth largest port and the number one French port for container traffic. With more than two million units per year arriving here from all around the world, Le Havre is an important point of entry for foodstuffs to the European Union.

And here, as in all European ports, every day of the year, goods are checked to make sure that they meet food safety standards before their import is authorised.

Veterinary voice

So that's -17 on the surface with the laser.


Samples for laboratory analysis are taken in two different circumstances.

Franck Faivre, Border Control Inspector

We either do random sampling with no real suspicions or we do suspect a particular organization or country which is subject to edicts by European or French regulations and then we take samples and the merchandise is blocked while we wait for the results.


And if a health problem is detected, the information is transmitted to the RASFF network’s French national centre where all health risk information is centralised. It can come from border controls, investigations on the national market, food sector companies, health centres or from individual citizens. But the information does not stop here…

Nathalie Pihier: Deputy Director of the Health Emergencies Mission, DGAL Paris

As soon as we have a product which could have been exchanged, that is to say sent to another member state, or a third country, we immediately inform the European alert network, the RASFF.


Operating 24 hours a day in the 27 member states of the Union, plus Lichtenstein, Iceland and Norway, the nerve centre is at the European Commission in Brussels. Every state has a national Information Point that transmits information as fast as possible to the Commission which, after analyzing the situation, immediately notifies the other national centres in the network.

Androulla Vassiliou, Health Commissioner, European Commission

Immediately they know that there is around a product which can be dangerous for human health, and this enables them either to prevent this product from entering the food chain, or by withdrawing this product from the shelves of the supermarkets if it has already found its way there.


In the melamine poisoning case, where a plastic substance had been fraudulently added to milk powder by Chinese industrial producers to simulate a higher protein level, everything started with a newsflash from the RASFF.

Jose Luis de Felipe Gardon, Head of sector, RASFF, European Commission

Inmediatamente que la información lleguó a nuestras manos, esta información se transmitió en cuestión de horas a los estados miembros y a partir de ese momento de un caracter inmediato se empezó a tomar medidas

Nathalie Pihier

Investigations started very quickly in various produce distribution points in order to find out if there were products which had been imported illegally and to block all products which could contain milk or milk products coming from China.

Jose Luis de Felipe Gardon

La mayoria de los productos afectados por esta alerta eran chocolates, galletas, caramelos que tenían un porcentaje de ese tipo de productos inferior a lo minimo pero que no podían entrar dentro lo que es la cadena alimentaria


But the melamine fraud did not only concern milk ...

Jose Luis de Felipe Gardon

Evidentemente en el ano 2007 el sistema de alerta rápido de alimentos y piensos ya detectó la presencia de melamina en piensos


An alert about Chinese Soya, was picked up by the agri-food cooperative Terrena which produces soya-based animal feed. It immediately analysed the one batch of Chinese soya it possessed.

Alain Montembault, Scientific and R&D Director, Terrena Group

It was an emerging risk, and so we immediately entered it into the control plan in every plant that uses this imported soya.

Christophe Corroccé, Communication Director, Terrena Group

The first analysis that we did showed up positive, at 116 mg per kilo,that is 50 times the European norm. We immediately alerted the veterinary authorities and the entire stock was destroyed in a special chain.

Alain Montembault

The RASFF is a fantastic tool for a company like ours because it allows us to update ourselves every week on all possible health risks at European level, not only the risks we know about which could turn into a serious crisis, but also new risks such as melamine which should of course never be found in the food chain.


European companies are very keen on the RASFF but so are numerous third country governments who are regularly informed by the European alert network

Androulla Vassiliou

The third countries would like also to use it as a model, to set up their own rapid alert system in their own territories. So we are helping them to do that. Eventually, what we are aiming at is to join together all these rapid alert systems in the various countries in one global system, so that eventually we shall secure the safety of foodstuff globally.


A worldwide alert network like this would take a long time to establish. In the meantime, European citizens are already assured of a high level of food safety, no matter where it comes from.