Commission Press Release (IP/04/317), 9 March 2004
David Byrne, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, has welcomed the European Parliament's vote today backing a new EU law on official food and feed controls. "This Regulation will significantly improve our ability to manage the food and feed chain, making it possible to provide ever safer food for Europe's consumers, and to verify compliance with animal health and animal welfare rules. It streamlines and strengthens the existing systems of controls, and gives the Commission new tools for ensuring high standards of food safety throughout the EU" said Commissioner Byrne. Proposed by the Commission in February 2003 (see IP/03/182), the new Regulation will reinforce the efficiency of control services performed by both Member States and the Commission. It will also provide a framework to support developing countries in meeting EU import requirements and enable the Commission to fund activities that enhance food and feed safety. Parliament's vote today backed a series of amendments to the Regulation that had been informally agreed with the Council. Final adoption of the Regulation will take place in the coming weeks. The new law is on course to enter into force on 1 January 2006.
Public opinion research carried out for the European Commission1 has shown that 90% of EU consumers want it to work to "ensure that agricultural products are healthy and safe". The Regulation on food and feed controls, one of the key measures proposed in the Commission's White Paper on Food Safety, will work towards this goal.
Harmonised controls in EU Member States audited by the Commission
Controls of food, feed and live animals are and will continue to be primarily a task for Member States. By introducing performance criteria for competent authorities and a harmonised EU-wide approach to the design and development of control systems in the Member States, the Regulation will however reinforce the verification of compliance with food and feed law and with animal health and animal welfare rules at all stages of production, processing and distribution. This includes the introduction of management principles (documented control procedures and internal audits) and stricter rules on the accreditation of laboratories. National control plans with specific operational criteria on elements like staff, training and documented control procedures will have to be established. Audits by the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) will evaluate performance against these control plans.
In addition to current requirements for contingency plans in the feed and veterinary sectors, contingency plans for food crises must also be established and staff suitably trained to implement these plans.
The Regulation will establish a common regime for controls on food and feed imports, basing the control frequency on risk. This means that for products that are known to present a particular risk, such as aflatoxins in some nuts, the sampling frequency at import may be more stringent than for products with a lower risk profile. Currently, uniform import procedures exist mainly for food and feed of animal origin.
The EU's role will continue to consist of audits by the FVO, verifying the efficiency of the control systems in the Member States and auditing the compliance or equivalence of third country legislation and control systems with EU rules. The main development in the FVO's role will be a move away from focusing on individual production establishments towards evaluating the overall operation of national control systems. Where there are specific problems to address, the FVO will inspect these situations in addition to the general audit, as is currently the practice.
The Regulation provides for administrative enforcement measures for Member States to address particular problems of non-compliance as well as enforcement measures at EU level. Where the Commission has proof that a Member State's control system is inadequate, the Regulation will allow the Commission to take interim measures to ensure the protection of human health, animal health, animal welfare and the environment. These measures would be taken in co-operation with the Member States within the Standing Committee, or in serious cases on the Commission's own initiative. These measures include suspending the right to place food and feed on the EU's Internal Market.
Support for developing countries
Third countries exporting to the EU are already now required to present guarantees that products exported to EU Member States meet EU standards. The Regulation provides for a number of initiatives, particularly training and twinning projects, to make it easier for developing countries to implement EU requirements for food and feed controls. These activities will be organised as part of the EU's external aid programmes and will primarily focus on the countries listed by the Development Aid Committee of the OECD.
The amendments to the Regulation backed by Parliament today had been informally agreed in advance with the Council and Commission. Council will, in the coming weeks, formally endorse Parliament's First Reading opinion and, shortly thereafter, the final text of the Regulation will be published in the EU's Official Journal. The way is now clear for the new system of official food and feed controls to apply from 1 January 2006 onwards.
Three Directives that are currently in place will be repealed and replaced by the provisions of the new Regulation once it enters into force. These Directives are: