he FASFC (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) was created in 2000 in the aftermath of the dioxin chicken crisis and is responsible for the control and enforcement of national standards throughout the food chain. To carry out these various missions, the Agency has put in place a battery of regulations. At first glance, one might say that this is a noble intention and that necessity is the law. However, the current practices of the FASFC raise serious questions.
STANDARDS FOR EXCESS
Legally, the FASFC applies the laws and regulations, many of which come from European legislation, and the decisions of EFSA, the European Food Safety Agency.
The problem is that the current legal framework authorizes, for example, the massive use of food additives, some of which are known to be toxic, the irradiation of foodstuffs, the harmlessness of which is seriously questionable, pesticides and sometimes GMOs, the health risks of which have never been validly tested by the said authorities.
We know the influence of industrial lobbies on the democratic process. The agro-industry, which weighs billions of euros and organizes seed corporations, which dominates the world of chemistry (fertilizers and phytosanitary products), production, transformation and large-scale distribution, manages to make the legislation conform to its interests, its own only.
In France, research by the Institut de Veille Sanitaire in March 2011 indicates that « 90% of the French population is contaminated by organophosphate insecticides and 80% by pyrethronoid pesticides with an average level of metabolites three times higher than that observed in the United States and higher than the German level.(1). All this with the blessing of the health agency and the French legislation.
In general, the major food contaminations are due to production methods: dioxin chicken in Belgium, mad cow in Europe, antibiotic resistant deadly bacteria in the USA, melamine milk in China, e‑coli cucumber, etc. These serious risks to animal, plant and human health are produced by the agro-industry.(2)
A CONVENIENT HYGIENISM
Paradox? Agencies are tightening their regulations and controls, focusing on bacteria. Old hygienist reflex of abolition of the microbe by science, sign of the superiority of the man and his reason on the dangerous nature which it is necessary to subject? It is also easy to focus on the periphery when it is the heart that is sick: in one case, the legislation should be reviewed and the interests of agribusiness confronted, in the other, it is the small producers who suffer…
The Belgian farmers’ unions have thus underlined the absurdity of the hunt for bacteria launched by the FASFC. On the one hand, « In 1997, 21 people in Belgium died from Salmonella infection. 19 of the 21 deaths were of people over 65 years of age (11 of which were over 80 years of age) »(3). On the other hand, « In 2005, a total of 57,185 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Belgium », and it is established that the increase in the frequency of cancer cannot be explained without taking into account environmental pollution, which includes food pollution.
Where should the Agency’s health priority be? To ask the question is to answer it.
If the « small producers » denounce this irrational and dangerous situation for the public health, it is also because they suffer from standards which are absolutely not adapted to their practice.
AGENCY STANDARDS, REALLY NORMAL?
They find themselves crushed by regulatory constraints and heavy, even prohibitive costs. To be able to market his products, the producer must indeed receive an AFSCA approval, which imposes controls, which are paid by the producer himself. Just like the costs of analysis in the case of a small cheese producer, this represents a lot: 2,780 euros per year, or two months’ salary. This is a difficult obstacle to overcome, especially for a young person who would like to take over a farm and who will have to start by going into heavy debt to do so.
This constraint is new, since the Agency has been mandated since 2003 to control the food chain. Would we die massively from the ingestion of farm products before this time, apart from contamination by dioxin chickens and mad cows?
Yet the Agency is overzealous in enforcing its regulations and favors control over guidance. Small producers are under a great deal of stress: Agency inspectors can decide to seal a farm if it does not meet certain criteria applied in a variable manner — as a result of ASFCA’s desire for flexibility — or even to seize a crop.
A STRUCTURED AND ORGANIZED RESPONSE FROM PEASANT AGRICULTURE.
Exasperated by the Agency’s practices and given the impossibility of establishing a constructive dialogue with it, MAP (Mouvement d’Action Paysanne) and FUGEA (Fédération Unie de Groupement d’Eleveurs et d’Agriculteurs), supported by Nature et Progrès and UNAB, set up the « quality action cell ». « This group’s mission is to organize the resistance of the farmers of Wallonia who trade or market their products without intermediaries (direct sales) and who are subject to abusive hygiene controls. Its objectives are to allow the diversification or maintenance of processing and marketing activities in short circuits on farms, farm and public markets, purchasing groups (GAC-GASAP,…), as well as the progressive installation of new farmers who need support. »(4)
The analysis of the situation of small producers by themselves has led to both a classification(5) and the idea of writing a charter, the Participatory Guarantee System (GGS) that would allow to establish a « book of good practices ». The hypothesis on which this proposal to reorient the application of sanitary standards is based is that of a « food system based on sovereignty and citizen involvement ».
OTHER STANDARDS ARE NEEDED
Serge Peereboom, farmer activist, says: « Exceptions to the sanitary standards enacted by Europe and transcribed into national legislation may be decided by the Member States. This is what Austria, Spain and France have decided to do in particular to protect their small craftsmen. Belgium did not take this possibility into account. »
It is not certain that the political decision-makers are able to hear the message addressed to them, nor that they act to protect peasant agriculture in Belgium.
However, one observation stands out, which is seriously questionable. The AFSCA standards have a strong negative effect on « small » farmers. A negative effect to the point of threatening the survival of some of the very people who are already under severe stress, and who propose and practice a healthy and sustainable model of agriculture.
One would like to finish off the last peasants that one would not do it differently!
- Isabelle Sapora, Le livre noir de l’agriculture. Comment on assassine nos paysans, notre santé et l’environnement, Paris, Arthème Fayard, 2011, p.8.
- «A qui profite la sécurité sanitaire des aliments? Les profits des entreprises contre la santé des populations», Grain, mai 2011.
- SENAT DE BELGIQUE : Ministre des Affaires sociales et de la Santé publique : Questions et Réponses Bulletin 3–54 Session De 2005–2006 Questions posées par les Sénateurs et réponses données par les Ministres [en ligne]. Disponible sur : http://www.senate.be/www/?MIval=/publications/viewPubDoc&TID=50347552&LA…
- «Mobilisons-nous pour faire évoluer les normes sanitaires en Belgique», supplément gratuit à «La Lettre» (MAP) et à «La Lettre Paysanne» (Fugéa), distribué entre autre lors du salon Valériane 2012.
- Tableau disponible en ligne sur le site www.fugea.be