2 December 2015 - Marijn Kingma

Court rules in favour of foodwatch in horsemeat scandal case

The Amsterdam District Court rendered a judgment today in the appeal by the independent, non‑profit organisation foodwatch against the Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs. The issue in this lawsuit was whether the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) had to disclose information about the customers of the meat processing company Selten.

Selten’s horsemeat

In April 2013, 50 million kilos of beef mixed with horsemeat placed on the market by Selten were recalled, because the NVWA deemed the meat unfit for human consumption. Making a request under the Dutch Government Information (Public Access) Act, foodwatch asked the NVWA to publicly disclose in which products the meat had ended up, so as to let consumers know which products might contain unsafe horsemeat and to provide insight into the way NVWA had handled the scandal. The NVWA refused to release the information, claiming that Selten’s customers would suffer damage to their reputations if the information were made public. In the NVWA’s view, consumers would interpret the information the wrong way and think that Selten’s customers themselves had done something improper.

The court’s ruling

Represented by the lawyers Marijn Kingma and Joep Meddens, foodwatch appealed the NVWA’s refusal to act to the Amsterdam District Court. The court found that the State Secretary (who is responsible for the NVWA) could not simply assume that the public would interpret the information wrongly. Moreover, the court concluded, without publication of the information in question, it was impossible to determine whether the NVWA had properly fulfilled its regulatory duties. The interest in disclosure thus outweighed any interest the companies had in not suffering damage to their reputations.The court disposed of the case itself, ordering the requested information to be made public. The ruling is not only a victory for consumers, but for the food industry as well, which will benefit from greater transparency. The court’s press release about this decision and the ruling can be found here; to see foodwatch’s press release, click here.