Food Law News - EU - 2004

EP Daily Notebook, 30 March 2004

HYGIENE - European Parliament votes on better food safety rules

1. Report on the Council common position with a view to the adoption of a European Parliament and Council regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs
2. Report on the Council common position for adopting a European Parliament and Council directive repealing certain Directives on the hygiene of foodstuffs and the health conditions for the production and placing on the market of certain products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and amending Council Directives 89/662/EEC and 92/118/EEC and Council Decision 95/408/EC
3. Report on the Council common position for adopting a European Parliament and Council regulation laying down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption
4. Report on the common position adopted by the Council with a view to the adoption of a European Parliament and Council regulation laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin

EU legislation on food hygiene and the organisation of food safety checks and inspections is currently based on no fewer than seventeen directives, some of which date from 1964. This is now due for reform, with a view to regrouping the legislation, making it more coherent, more flexible, better suited to the evolution of the market and of scientific knowledge and better able to meet the increasing public demand for better food safety and consumer protection. The Commission has proposed four new regulations and one directive in order to meet these goals. These were adopted by Parliament at second reading under the co-decision procedure, with four reports from Horst SCHNELLHARDT (EPP-ED, D).

Hygiene from the stable to the table

The EU's approach is based on the principle that food producers are wholly responsible for the safety of their products and that hygiene rules need to be applied at every stage of the food chain - 'from the farm to the table.' This procedure meets the requirements of the international food safety code known as Codex Alimentarius, including the use of the HACCP system (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) to put the established hygiene principles into practice. The new legislation widens the scope of the system to cover all the businesses involved in the food sector. Specific control measures are proposed for products of animal origin, whether processed or not, because of the particular health risks they pose. This includes meat (red meat, poultry and game), milk, bivalve molluscs (oysters, mussels, clams etc.) and fish.

MEPs also underline that official controls of fresh meat should in principle be carried out by official staff. However, the Member States may allow slaughterhouse staff to perform certain specific activities under the supervision of the official veterinarian but - according to two amendments adopted by MEPs - this possibility should be restricted to poultry and rabbit meat. These two particularly controversial points supported by Parliament are contested by both the Council and the Commission. Their adoption by Parliament probably means that conciliation will be necessary. The House also adopted an amendment which calls on Member States to ensure that food business operators offer all assistance needed to ensure that official controls carried out by the competent authority can be performed effectively. They should in particular give access to all buildings, premises, installations or other infrastructures; and make available any documentation and record required under the present regulation or considered necessary by the competent authority for judging the situation.

MEPs reintroduced amendments from the first reading which were not supported by the Commission and were not included in the Council's common position. Some of these would be included in a compromise with the Council, though in most cases the Council's draft compromise sticks to its previous position. Notable disagreements include the application of the HACCP system to primary production as well as the powers of the Commission to use the comitology procedure modify the legislation's annexes on hygiene rules applicable to primary production and other types of food business, on the specific rules on products of animal origin and on imports of animal products from third countries.

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