Foodwatch director: ‘Everything liquefies under the right pressure’

Nicole van Gemert has been director of Foodwatch for four years now. “I have been in politics for a long time. I have been a political ombudsman within agriculture, nature and fisheries. After that I was director at Bont voor Dieren. After ten years I had achieved all my goals: fur is no longer bred in the Netherlands. So I went looking for something else. I came across the vacancy at Foodwatch. This appealed to me immediately. All my work experience comes together in this position.”

Corporate power is super smart, but also very evil

According to Van Gemert, Foodwatch is the only consumer rights organization that is completely independent. “We would like to maintain that status. We do not accept grant money and really work like a louse in the skin. Therefore, we have a different role in the debate than, for example, the Nutrition Center and the Consumers’ Association. We confront and are known for our investigation. We are really very aware of that.” According to her, there is also an important difference with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). “It’s one big lobby club. In the discussion about glyphosate, this organization has read about two hundred scientific reports on the subject. Three-quarters of that came from industry.” In the Netherlands we have the NVWA. “This is a lovely club with unfortunately a lot of undercapacity.”

counter force

Companies try to be the best in all possible areas, emphasizes Van Gemert. “We are opposed. For example, we have started an international campaign against food speculation. Speculation with food is of course normal. The aim is to establish a guaranteed price for the farmer. But at the start of the war, the available grain was immediately bought up. This is held, causing prices to rise. We want there to be a limit on what positions speculators can hold. But it is very difficult for us to compete with the big agricultural lobby.”

You cannot sell palm oil and say that the product does not contain palm oil

She believes that there is not enough grain because of the war in Ukraine. “Our bread is made from the grain that was harvested last year. Manufacturers were allowed to relax their labels within a week of the start of a war. If they use rapeseed or palm oil instead of sunflower oil, it should not be on the label. It’s bizarre. If companies are able to adapt the recipe but don’t have to change the label, then that’s a contradiction. If necessary, put a sticker on it. You cannot sell palm oil and say that the product does not contain palm oil. Consumers have the right to know what they are eating. You can’t just change that under the guise of a crisis. The rules fail.”

Foodwatch is very satisfied with its large following.

Separator meat

She considers control of machine-separated meat to be an important issue. “We have been investigating this for four years and are constantly falling from one surprise to another. The meat can no longer be traced, and because the structure of the meat has changed, you can no longer test which animals it comes from even in the laboratory. In addition, mechanical separation, grinding and pressing make the meat more susceptible to bacterial infections. Unfortunately, our research shows that there is insufficient traceability and control. By doing so, the Dutch state is overstepping European law.”

Foodwatch believes that the government should ensure proper monitoring. “The responsibility lies primarily with the producer, but of course he will not report any abuse. That is why we demand that the government check. That is the reason why we have filed summary proceedings with the state. We want more insight into the MSM industry, that the state ensures that food companies can identify their own sources, and that food labels indicate that a food contains MSM and from which slaughterhouse it comes.”

I hope for change and always keep fighting

She is curious about the judge’s verdict. “If we lose, and then we have still shown how important it is to fight for better food security. Furthermore, we will try to provide the proof ourselves.”

Pesticides

Another example is the pesticide dossier. “Every year we ask the NVWA for the results of the use of insecticides. Last year more than thirty different types of pesticides were found on raisins. We want to use research to show the impact of its use. We have learned that many pesticide licenses are being renewed without a prescribed safety check. Lack of time means that testing for, among other things, endocrine disruptors or substances that can cause harm to the unborn child is extended beyond the normal procedure. This has led to political majorities in The Hague and Brussels has called for an end to this practice.”

Mineral oil in packaging

According to Van Gemert, the fight against mineral oil, which is used for packaging, has also paid off. “The Dutch government says the companies themselves are responsible, but we think they should be monitored.” Therefore, Foodwatch has examined 120 packages of rice, pasta, cornflakes and other foods. “It turns out that many well-known A brands and private labels are contaminated with mineral oils. Following our appeal to Dutch supermarkets to prevent food contamination with harmful mineral oils, more than thirteen supermarket chains and various manufacturers pledged to take action.”

Van Gemert expects that Foodwatch will always be necessary to express a dissenting voice. “We are increasing public pressure and political pressure. And under the right pressure, everything eventually liquefies. I am hopeful for change and will always keep fighting.”

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