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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Grocery importers to step up control

Several of Norway’s largest grocery store chains plan to increase testing and step up control of their own imported products after Europe’s horsemeat scandal also hit home. They’re urging the entire food industry to take more responsibility for their own goods than they have to date. 

“This is a wake-up call for the whole of Europe,” Kine Søyland, communications manager at NorgesGruppen, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “The food industry needs to take greater responsibility for testing products than before. This is a new reality.”

NorgesGruppen, Norway’s largest grocery retailer and a major wholesaler as well, last week found horsemeat in frozen lasagne imported to Norway under the “First Price” brand after running DNA tests. It had already pulled the lasagne off the market after reports emerged in the UK and elsewhere that frozen lasagne contained horsemeat and could be dangerous for human consumption. This was the first time NorgesGruppen had seen the need to DNA test any of its food.

‘On the alert’
Government ministers called an emergency meeting of food inspectors and industry players as the scandal hit. It also emerged that little if any testing of ready-made imported food products is done in Norway, and there are minimal requirements for wholesalers and retailers to do so. Food from Europe is not tested at all unless there are specific reasons for it. In such cases, this is normally done by the state food safety agency, Mattilsynet, not by the food companies.

NorgesGruppen, which owns the Kiwi, Spar, Meny and Joker grocery chains in Norway among others, said it had already started extensive testing of five of their products. “We’re facing new issues making it necessary to be more on the alert,” Søyland told Dagsavisen.

Other food chains also said they would step up their own testing. “We’ve always tested some products, but are now including significantly more to ensure that content declarations are accurate,” Solveig Flateby, director of communications at Reitan-gruppen, told Dagsavisen. Reitan-gruppen owns the REMA 1000, Narvesen and 7-Eleven chains in Norway, among others.

ICA Norge said the European food scandal had also prompted more action on their part. “We are making long-term plans to secure food safety,” Lise Mette Kjellberg, communications advisor, told Dagsavisen, adding that this included tougher requirements for manufacturers and more extensive testing of finished products.

More state testing, too
Mattilsynet, responsible for regulating food safety in Norway, also said it would increase testing of food by launching a trial where they will be testing 50 different products. This is something they have only done previously when suspecting a violation of rules. Mattilsynet has said the current rules are based on trust for control mechanisms across Europe.

Mattilsynet said it was pleased with news that the food industry would increase its own testing of products.

“It’s an important principle that businesses are responsible for their own products,” Randi Edvardsen, department manager at Mattilsynet, told Dagsvisen.

Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz

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