Food Law News - EU - 2004

Commission Press Release (IP/04/544), 26 April 2004

OFFICIAL CONTROLS / HYGIENE - Byrne welcomes completion of extensive review of food and feed controls and hygiene rules

The Agriculture Council today adopted key legislation on food and feed controls and hygiene rules, completing the extensive review of these sectors proposed by the European Commission. David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the Council adoption of the Regulation on Food and Feed Controls and the Regulation on Feed Hygiene, in addition to the package of food hygiene legislation which was just recently finalised. All of these new laws will apply from 1 January 2006.

"These are some of the key initiatives that I promised to deliver on as Commissioner and I am very pleased indeed to see their completion", Commissioner Byrne said. " These laws will radically improve our food safety systems and involve important structural reforms. These rules significantly strengthen consumer protection in the EU."

Enhancing enforcement: Official Food and Feed Controls

Proposed by the Commission in February 2003 (see IP/03/182), the Regulation on Official Food and Feed Controls will streamline previously weak and scattered controls and reinforce the efficiency of control services performed by both Member States and the Commission. It clearly defines the Member States' responsibility to ensure that business operators apply EU legislation correctly and sets out the role of the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) as "auditor" of the Member States' performance. Performance criteria are introduced for the Member State competent authorities and a harmonised EU-wide approach to the design and development of control systems is set out.

The Regulation 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. It establishes a common regime for controls on food and feed imports, basing the nature and frequency of controls on risk. This means for example that import conditions can be more stringent for products with a higher risk profile, such as certain nuts that may contain aflatoxins.

The Council's vote today backed the text resulting from the first reading of the Parliament without amendments. For more information on what is contained in the Regulation, please refer to the Q&A published today.

Streamlining hygiene: A neat package

The hygiene package, one of the key elements of the recast of the EU's food safety legislation, is composed of five parts covering general hygiene, hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, official controls and animal health rules for products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and a Directive repealing the previously existing legislation. For example, rules are introduced on the inspection of both live animals and meat and on the level of supervision in cutting plants.

The hygiene package introduces the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) principles in all sectors of the food business except for primary production on farms. For example, two critical control points in slaughterhouses that need to be managed according to the HACCP principles are the prevention of faecal contamination of carcasses and ensuring the correct temperature of carcasses during storage.

The hygiene package will merge, harmonise and simplify the EU hygiene legislation that was previously scattered over seventeen 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 hygiene rules allow for some flexibility for small businesses, traditional food production methods and for businesses in isolated areas. In addition, primary production for private use and the direct sale of small quantities of primary products are not covered by the hygiene rules. For example, apples or eggs sold directly at the farm gate or in local retail shops are exempted.

For more information on the hygiene package, see the Q&A issued today and the previous press releases: IP/00/791, IP/02/719, IP/02/948, IP/02/1127, IP/02/1766, IP/02/1890 and IP/03/1057.

The missing link: Feed hygiene

The Regulation on hygiene requirements for animal feed completes the "farm to fork" approach, providing rules on the production, transport, storage and handling of animal feed. Many food crises have their origin in contaminated feed, such as the dioxin crisis. Therefore the hygienic handling and production of feed is absolutely vital to ensure safe food. Also of particular importance is the liability of feed operators to pay for the costs, such as withdrawal from the market and destruction of feed, if something goes wrong with their feed as a result of infringements of the feed safety legislation.

Feed is either produced using soil resources (e.g. grass and cereals) or from by-products of the food industry (e.g. bakery waste). These materials often require complex industrial transformation to preserve the feed material or to produce compound feedingstuffs. The Regulation covers all types of feed and the entire range of feed business operators. However, there is some flexibility for small businesses and remote regions, for which Member States may put in place appropriate solutions based on the local situation, without compromising the objective of food safety. For example, pet food is excluded from the hygiene rules, as is the trade of small quantities of feed between farmers at the local level.

For details of what is in the Regulation, please consult MEMO/04/94 issued today and the previous press release: IP/03/567.

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