Food Law News - EU - 2004

EP Daily Notebook, 9 March 2004

OFFICIAL CONTROL - European Parliament votes on reinforced controls throughout the food chain

Report on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council Regulation on official feed and food controls

The European Parliament adopted a compromise (codecision, first reading) on a regulation on official controls on food and feed, by 287 votes in favour, 194 against and 23 abstentions. By adopting a number of amendments in a report by Marit PAULSEN (ELDR, S), MEPs clarify the scope of the regulation, introduce transparency to the inspections and incorporate animal welfare and health to the regulation. The compromise was reached after long political negotiations with the Council. It ensures that the regulation enters into force as soon as possible.

MEPs clarified the scope of the official controls: they must prevent, eliminate or reduce to acceptable levels risks to humans and animals. They must also guarantee fair practices in trade and protect consumer interests, including labelling and other forms of consumer information. The Member States must ensure that official controls are carried out regularly and that they identify risks associated with animals, feed or food. The controls must take into account food safety and animal health and welfare. Official controls will be carried out without prior warning, except in cases such as audits. Official controls may also be carried out on an ad hoc basis.
A controversial issue was the question on criminal sanctions. The MEPs passed an amendment which says that Member States shall lay down the rules on sanctions applicable to infringements of feed and food law and protection of animal health and welfare. The sanctions must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.

Another difficult issue was the question of transparency and confidentiality of the feed and food controls. As the original proposal only mentions the need to safeguard confidentiality, the Parliament instead today adopted an amendment which puts emphasis on transparency of the controls. MEPs insisted that relevant information held by the food and feed authorities should be made available to the public as soon as possible. Confidentiality however is not overruled, as the authority also has to ensure that it does not disclose information which by its nature is covered by professional secrecy.

MEPs had to decide whether the level of control fees should be dealt within Member States or whether an EU-wide fee should be introduced. The MEPs opted for the first choice and adopted an amendment that allows the Member States to collect fees to cover the costs occasioned by official controls. The fees shall not be higher than the costs and they may be fixed at flat rates on the basis of the costs borne by the competent authorities over a given period of time. The fees may also be fixed, where applicable, at the minimum amounts fixed in the annexes of the regulation.

The regulation also covers issues such as the delegation of control to specific control bodies, imports from third counties, community laboratories, liaison bodies with other Member states and multi-annual control plans.

Finally, the Parliament adopted an amendment on the entry into force of the regulation. The new rules on feed and food controls shall apply from January 2006 instead of 2005 as proposed by the Commission

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