More tools to fight against fraud and infringements in the food sector in France

01 July 2013

Axel Munier, Nathalie Ruffin

The food & beverage sector has seen growing concerns in France in the past few months concerning fraud and infringement to hygiene rules, fuelled mainly by a major food scandal following reports that horse meat was passed off as beef in various frozen products.

Customs supervision is amongst one of the various effective means which French and EU law provide for the fight against such infringements. The scheme provided for under the EU Customs Regulation, and strengthened in France by national rules in the Intellectual Property Code and the Customs Code, allows intellectual property right holders (in particular trademark owners) to file an EU-wide or national application for Customs action. Customs will then inform rights holders whenever they find potentially infringing products during controls or investigations. The efficiency of this scheme was recently illustrated by the seizure of 10,000 packages of counterfeit "BN" cookies by Customs of Marseille (South of France) on 15 May 2013.
Yet Customs supervision, whilst extremely effective to protect brand owners, only allows fighting against fraudulent and infringing products through the lens of anti-counterfeiting.

However, fraud and infringement to hygiene rules in the food sector sometimes go beyond the realm of intellectual property rules. In these situations (such as misleading advertising, or violations of regulations on food hygiene), Customs may not always have all the tools to act alone against infringements, mainly because not all Customs Agents are trained to detect infringing products and networks.

Another specialized Public Office is in charge of assisting manufacturers, brand owners and distributors in the food & beverage sector: OCLAESP ("Office central de lutte contre les atteintes à l’environnement et à la santé publique" - Central Office Against Environmental and Public Health Violations). OCLAESP is specialized in investigating various types of food fraud (such as i.a. misleading advertising). It notably provides support to all stakeholders in the food and beverage sector desiring to protect even further their own rights, and to battle against infringements to food hygiene regulations. It has been very active in the recent horse meat scandal.

All stakeholders in the food sector should thus not hesitate to bring OCLAESP into the fold, should they require any support in investigating a possible food fraud.