Food Law News - EU - 2005


FSA Consultation Letter, 29 July 2005

OFFICIAL CONTROL - Consultation on draft audit criteria guidance

EU regulation 882/2004 on official controls consultation - Draft European Commission guidance on criteria for the conduct of audit of competent authorities

The Food Standards Agency, together with colleagues in Defra and the devolved Agriculture Departments, is seeking your views on the draft European Commission guidelines on criteria for conducting audits of competent authorities as required by EU Regulation 882/2004 on official controls. Responses are requested by: 9 September 2005

The underpinning aim of the EU Regulation, including the audit requirement, is to ensure that the functions of the competent authorities are being discharged effectively and provide safeguards to consumers. Your views are also sought on the associated draft initial Public Sector Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA).

The Commission is working to a tight timetable on this and hopes to adopt its guidelines at a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) in mid-September.

Background

We wrote to stakeholders on 28 June 2005 highlighting that the European Commission is developing guidelines on criteria for the conduct of audits of competent authorities and outlining the main elements that this would cover. We are grateful for the many useful comments that we received and these will help inform the UK position. Our June 2005 stakeholder letter said, it was expected that the Commission would adopt its guidelines at the July SCoFCAH meeting. However, the Commission was aware that Member States had had little time to consider the guidelines or to consult on them. In view of this, the document did not feature on the July agenda and, instead, it is expected to be presented to the September meeting of the Committee.

Draft Commission guidelines

The Commission has now issued a draft of the guidelines that we are able to circulate to stakeholders for their views and this is available below. Please note that this a working document. It may not necessarily represent the views of the Commission and the document that is presented to the SCoFCAH may differ.

The requirement for competent authorities to be audited is at Article 4(6) of Regulation 882/2004 and Article 43(1) provides the basis for the Commission to draw up guidelines on audit criteria that Member States must take account of. It has now been clarified that the guidelines are to take the form of an EC Decision rather than an EC Recommendation. The aim of the guidelines is to provide general principles to be taken account of rather than prescriptive requirements.

Your views on any aspect of the draft guidelines are welcome but, as before, we would particularly value comments on the following issues:

Systematic approach - Audits should measure compliance with planned arrangements. They should also assess the effectiveness of implementation of planned arrangements and whether the arrangements are suitable to achieve stated objectives. Reporting should be balanced such that it includes positive findings as well as areas for improvement and best practice should be identified and disseminated. Do you agree with these principles?

Risk based approach/five year audit cycle - A risk based approach is proposed but it is also recommended that all competent authorities be audited across all their activities within a five year period. We are concerned that this is inconsistent with a risk-based approach and with the stated aim that the guidelines are non-prescriptive. We believe that it would be more appropriate to suggest that Member States take account of the overall picture of enforcement activity of all relevant competent authorities and the control activities that they cover in developing a risk-based audit programme. The approach should be proportionate and should cater for the diversity of audit systems and approaches adopted in the different Member States. We would, however, be interested in your views on this point.

On-site audit activities (‘reality checks') – It is recommended that assessments of the quality and consistency of official controls should include on-site audit activities i.e. checks at feed and food premises etc (‘reality checks'). Any decision to incorporate such checks in an audit must be taken on balance against the potential benefit and must be risk-based and proportionate. Do you agree?

Transparency – In order to demonstrate transparency of the audit process, it is recommended that documented procedures should be followed. Management and implementation of the audit process should be transparent to all relevant stakeholders. It is recommended that final audit reports, action plans and follow up reports are published

The draft document is available at: Draft Commission Decision


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