FSA Information, 25 November 2003
European Commission proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on official feed and food controls - update on negotiations. Information provided by the UK Food Standards Agency.
The FSA undertook a full public consultation on the above proposal between March and June this year. We indicated then that we would update stakeholders via our website about developments in the negotiations. This is the second such update. It is also a request for further urgent comments and views.
What is the proposal about?
The proposal is concerned with the approach that the enforcement authorities in the Member States should adopt for checking that feed and food businesses are complying with feed and food law. It also covers how the European Commission will, in turn, check that the enforcement authorities in the Member States and in third countries are operating effectively.
What is the current state of play?
Negotiations began In April under the Greek Presidency and are now progressing
rapidly under the Italian Presidency which is giving the proposal priority and
hopes to achieve political agreement at first reading before the European Parliament
elections in April 2004. If adopted, the Regulation is due to apply from 1 January
The proposal is being considered by the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Consumers Committee. The Committee's draft report has been issued and there will be a vote on it on 27 November.
What are the key issues?
As mentioned in Update 1, three key issues have emerged during the negotiations - import controls, financing (including obligatory charging for 'excess control activities' required following detection of non-compliance - see next section) and sanctions. The views of Member States differ on these, particularly in respect of the latter two. Consequently, and in order to move things forward, the Presidency has proposed compromises on financing and sanctions. These compromises are reflected in a revised text - available here (changes are indicated by shading) - and your urgent comments on these would be very welcome.
What has changed on financing?
Original proposal - The Commission wanted a flexible approach allowing Member States, for the most part, to decide for themselves how financing would be undertaken. This was in line with what the UK originally lobbied for as this would have allowed us to maintain the status quo on funding arrangements. By way of exception to the Commission's general approach, charging of businesses for the costs associated with 'excess controls' resulting from detection of non-compliance, was obligatory. The UK was not in favour of this. Similarly, the proposal required that Member States recover the costs from businesses for all import controls. This continued existing charging arrangements for import controls on products of animal origin (POAO) but would have been new for import controls on non-animal products (non-POAO). The UK is still assessing the impact of this.
The views of other Member States varied widely, however, depending on their current national arrangements. The positions ranged from those wanting all controls funded by fees levied to businesses to those wanting all controls funded from the public purse. In addition, it is important to note that the key amendments being suggested in the draft report of the European Parliament's Environment Committee concern the financing provisions. The Committee's rapporteur (Marit Paulsen of Sweden) is of the view that all controls should be funded by means of contributions from businesses.
Compromise proposal - By way of compromise, the Presidency is proposing that arrangements should be harmonised in certain sectors, principally for veterinary checks on products of animal origin (where this is already the case).
In terms of detail, in many areas the question of whether or not competent authorities will have to levy a charge on food business operators to cover the cost of official controls will be left to the discretion of the Member State concerned. However, for certain sectors i.e. meat, fish, approvals of premises, the proposal would oblige Member States to levy at least a flat rate minimum charge. Member States would be able to recover all its costs from food business operators if it wished. We are not clear at what level minimum fees are to be levied, and the references to the current Charges Directive (96/43) need further explanation. We will be following these points up with the Presidency at the next Council Working Group meeting on 3 December.
The requirement in the original proposal to charge for 'excess controls' is carried through in the compromise suggestion as many Member States already impose fees for such controls and wish to see this extended to all Member States. The UK will need to consider carefully if the new proposal provides sufficient flexibility and what the impact of charging for excess controls will be.
With regard to costs for import controls, we are still unclear as to the intention of the Presidency on non-POAO in the compromise suggestion. The requirement for recovery of costs does not appear to have been carried forward, even for those non-POAO designated as being 'high risk' and for which more stringent controls will be required. We will be seeking clarification on this point.
In terms of the UK position on this new text, the objective remains to secure as much flexibility as possible so that we may remain as close as possible to the status quo.
What has changed on sanctions?
Under the Commission proposal, certain activities breaching feed and food law must be criminalised. Most, but not all, Member Sates are opposed to this on the basis that the Commission does not have the necessary competence to require this. The Presidency compromise would require that these activities be subject to 'administrative and/or criminal sanctions in accordance with national law'. In terms of the UK position, we still have problems with the use of the term 'criminal sanctions' and will continue to press for this to be removed.
What are the next steps in the negotiations?
The proposal was discussed at Ministerial level at the Agriculture Council on 17 November. It was agreed that the Presidency should continue to pursue the compromise suggestion on financing and sanctions and that the dossier would be considered again at the December Council when a more definitive decision will be taken. Before then, there is a Working Group (official level) meeting in Brussels on 3 December so your urgent comments on these issues, and on any other aspect of the new text, would be very welcome. Please send these as soon as possible to David Millis at: email@example.com.
If you require any further information or have any questions or concerns arising from the proposal or the associated RIA, please do not hesitate to contact either Catriona Stewart on 020 7276 8498 or David Millis on 020 7276 8424.