Food Law News - EU - 2002

Commission Press Release (IP/02/1890), 16 December 2002

HYGIENE - Commissioner David Byrne welcomes Council agreement on hygiene rules for food of animal origin

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, today welcomed the political agreement by the Council on a Regulation to set hygiene rules for food of animal origin. The measure was proposed by the Commission as part of its general hygiene package. Food of animal origin is particularly prone to microbiological and chemical hazards. This measure aims to prevent hazards to human health arising from such food. The legislation focuses on setting objectives while leaving business flexibility in deciding which safety measures to take.

Welcoming the Council's political agreement, Mr Byrne said: "The proposed Regulation on hygiene rules for food of animal origin is a key aspect of achieving food safety for Europe's consumers while at the same time delivering the flexibility that is necessary to maintain the celebrated diversity of our food. The purpose is to lay down rules to be respected by food business operators with regard to the hygienic production, processing and distribution of food of animal origin. This will give food operators primary responsibility for food safety right through the food chain."

The Regulation agreed today by Council sets out specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, affecting products including fresh and processed meat, milk and dairy products, and fishery products. The new text introduces more flexibility compared with current legislation, which is in many respects very detailed and prescriptive. The intention is that further simplification will become feasible in the longer term, with the implementation of the self-checking Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system agreed by the Council in the first part of the hygiene package in June 2002. The HACCP system prescribes steps towards identifying and addressing points throughout the production chain where control is critical to food safety.

Why special measures for food of animal origin?

Food of animal origin requires special control measures due to the specific risk of microbiological and chemical hazards. Such hazards include the contamination of food with pathogenic micro-organisms such as salmonella and listeria and the presence of parasites (e.g. trichina in pork and anisakis-larvae in fish).

What does this mean in practice?

This Regulation only affects food of animal origin. Following the principle of flexibility, exemptions can be made for food produced according to traditional methods, by small businesses or in remote regions. Exemptions that may compromise food hygiene objectives are not allowed, and the procedures for granting exemptions must be transparent.

As a general rule, the Regulation does not cover retail establishments such as hotels, restaurants and shops since the general hygiene rules should be sufficient to ensure food hygiene at this level. However, where retail establishments supply products of animal origin to other retail establishments, the Regulation will apply.

The five cases below are excluded from the Regulation, and Member States are responsible for managing the last three cases:

Establishments that handle products of animal origin (as defined by this Regulation) must be approved by the competent authority, and each approved establishment shall be granted an approval number. The food business operator must provide the food with an oval identification mark that contains the approval number. However, in the case of meat, the carcasses shall be provided with a health mark to be applied by or under the supervision of the official veterinarian. This health mark underscores that the meat has been submitted to all the official controls required by EU law.

The specific guarantees regarding salmonella that were extended to Sweden and Finland upon joining the EU will be maintained. There are, however, provisions for modifications of this exemption to be made based on progress towards reducing salmonella in other Member States.

Food business operators that import food of animal origin must ensure that such food comes from third countries that are approved for that purpose and that the dispatching establishment in the third country concerned appears on a list drawn up in accordance with EU procedures.

What is in the hygiene package?

The hygiene package, one of the key elements of the recast of food legislation, is composed of five parts. The first four are proposed legislative acts: (I) general hygiene of foodstuffs, (II) hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, (III) official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and (IV) animal health rules for products of animal origin for human consumption. Part five is a Directive repealing the previously existing legislation.

The four proposals will merge, harmonise and simplify the EU hygiene legislation that was previously scattered over 17 separate Directives and instead create a single, transparent hygiene policy. This policy will be applicable to all food operators and includes effective instruments to manage food safety and any future food crises throughout the food chain.

The Agriculture Council reached agreement on the first proposal at its June 2002 meeting and on the fourth in November 2002. The third proposal is awaiting first reading in the European Parliament, which has appointed Horst Schnellhardt as rapporteur and is expected to adopt its report in March 2003. The second part of the package is the proposed Regulation for which political agreement was reached today in the Agriculture Council.

Next steps

The Regulation on hygiene rules for food of animal origin is being adopted through the co-decision procedure. Following a common position by Council, it is expected to go to the European Parliament for a second reading during the first half of 2003.

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