World's Largest Food Safety Lab Opens Doors in France

With tainted fruits and vegetables sending scares across the globe, worried food authorities can welcome the inauguration of the world's largest private laboratory performing safety analysis on food. But don't expect them to announce the

Salmonella infecting a human cell
Salmonella infecting a human cell

Worldcrunch *NEWSBITES

NANTES - The E. coli crisis that killed 52 people in Germany last spring has now been followed by a deadly outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in the United States that has killed 13 people so far. The risks of tainted food – and the ability to rapidly and accurately identify the source of contamination – is a hot topic indeed.

So just in time comes the inauguration of Eurofins' new site, the world's largest independent laboratory specializing in microbial testing of foods. Located in the western French city of Nantes, the new lab specializes in the analysis of bacteria found in foods, including listeria, salmonella, E. coli, and staphylococci. The new lab unit will culture more than 10,000 petri dishes with microbes daily, offering its clients a choice of three different types of methods with a price ranging from 20 to 200 euros.

The challenge of locating the exact origin of contaminated food was highlighted during the E.coli crisis that broke out in northern Germany in May. German health authorities initially erroneously blamed the outbreak on Spanish cucumbers, eventually tracing it back to bean sprouts that had found their way into the European market from Egypt.

With growing global trade, the risk of food contamination with emerging microbiological pathogens increases, threatening not only public health, but also the food industry's bottom line.

In Europe, the industry is held responsible for their commercial products, which is why they look to private labs to perform analyses to ensure that their products adhere to the high standards of the food industry's regulatory guidelines. The food industry has been routinely self-regulating itself, mainly as a matter of prevention.

"Only in the event of a major food crisis do the public agencies directly intervene," says Jean-Yves Denis, director of the microbiology at Eurofins.

Communicating to the public the results of their analyses is not their business. "As a lab, we do the measurements, but do not report on the outcome," says Fayçal Bellatif, the company's marketing director. "We are beholden to protect industry secrets. In the end it is up to the food companies to disclose the results of our analyses."

The worldwide market of food safety analysis is estimated at 1.5 billion euros. Eurofins, the private company that will offer this service, is a global leader in the food analysis sector and one of the largest of its kind in northern Europe. They have developed their own extensive network of collection hubs throughout France to enable quick delivery of samples, which is critical to this type of time-sensitive research. Besides France, Eurofins also has labs based in 28 other countries.

Conducting analyses of microbes represents only about a third of all analyses performed by the lab. It is also specialized in identifying genetically modified crops, analyzing chemical contamination like pesticides, allergens, heavy metals, acrylamide and melamine, which have been found in tainted milk products from China.

Read more from Le Figaro in French

photo - Nutloaf

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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