Food processors are being accused of hiding food safety problems at their food factories by failing to report them.
The Irish Times can reveal that the fines have been paid to two firms: The American-owned food processing giant General Mills and the French food processing firm, Dessalines.
The two companies have been hit with a total of €2.9bn in penalties, mostly for the failures of their operations.
The fines relate to the food contamination at the two firms’ facilities in the Netherlands and Belgium.
It has also been alleged that the companies did not fully disclose the risks of contamination of their products.
“The Dutch company has been fined €1.6bn for its failure to adequately assess the risks to consumers and its failure, as a result of this, to report and assess the level of food safety risk to the public,” a spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency (FSSA) told The Irish Press.
“General Mills has been paid €1bn for failing to fully assess the risk of food contamination.”
The FSB has been investigating the issue for more than two years and it has revealed that the food safety situation in Europe is worse than the crisis of 2008-2009, when food was contaminated at major factories in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
This led to the closure of many food processing plants across Europe and the closure or forced closure of a number of companies.
The French food manufacturing firm, L’Harmattan, was fined €2 billion for its role in the food crisis.
“L’Hamattan was found to have been involved in a series of serious violations and serious breaches of EU regulations relating to food safety in France,” the spokeswoman said.
“Its operations in France were affected by the contamination of a large number of poultry products.
The company was fined a total €1,976,000.”
A spokesperson for General Mills said it had been fined for “serious breaches” of EU food safety regulations and had been forced to shut its food processing facilities in France and Belgium because of contamination.
The spokesperson added that General Mills was “committed to the highest standards of food hygiene and food safety”.
“The firm will fully cooperate with the authorities in their investigations and will fully reimburse any amount due to the fines,” the spokesperson said.
However, the spokeswoman did not comment on the amount of the fine.
Food Safety Ireland, the regulatory body responsible for food safety, told The Independent it is “unaware” of any similar fines being paid to General Mills.
However a spokesperson for the company confirmed that it was aware of the FSB’s investigation.
“We are confident that we will be fully compliant with all applicable food safety rules,” the company said.
The spokesman also confirmed that the company has cooperated fully with the investigations.
“Our commitment to food hygiene is very high and we take our responsibility to the consumer very seriously.
We have complied fully with our food safety obligations,” the spokesman said.
General Mills said in a statement it has taken responsibility for all food safety measures and will “fully cooperate with any investigation that is launched into the food quality issues at our premises.”
“We have undertaken a thorough review of our operations to ensure the safety of our staff and to ensure that the facility remains safe for our customers and the community,” the statement said.
It also pointed out that “the food quality problems have been reported to the FSA and the company is fully compliant”.
“We take our role as food processors very seriously,” it added.
A spokesperson from the Dutch food processing company said it was “confident” that the situation at its facility had been dealt with appropriately and the “corrosive effects of the contamination are being mitigated”.
“As far as the company can tell, there is no evidence that there are any other food safety violations or any other risk to our workers,” the Dessalais spokesperson said in an email.
“The company is very grateful to the authorities for their efforts to ensure food safety.”
The company has also confirmed it has received a letter from the FSSA which confirms that the investigation has been closed and the firm is cooperating fully with all the authorities.