Food Law News - EU - 2006

Commission Press Release (IP/06/896), 30 June 2006

RAPID ALERT SYSTEM - Food Safety: Commission presents annual report on Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed

Notifications from EU Member States of risks to food safety rose by 22% in 2005 compared to the previous year, according to the annual report on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) published by the European Commission today. The RASFF is a tool to enable the quick and effective exchange of information between Member States and the Commission on identified risks to the food and feed chain. In total 3158 notifications of food and feed risks were received through the RASFF last year, compared to 2588 in 2004. Meat, poultry and fishery products, fruit and vegetables, and herbs and spices, accounted for the greatest number of notifications. Among the main hazards notified by national control authorities were the presence of mycotoxins, harmful micro-organisms (such as salmonella and e-coli), and illegal substances (such as Sudan dyes). The report also looks at some of the bigger food safety incidents in 2005, such as the presence of the chemical ITX in liquid baby milk, outlines the role of the RASFF in dealing with these and looks at how they were followed up on.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said, “EU food safety legislation is among the strictest in the world, and the primary goal is to ensure that all food and feed destined for the EU market meets the high standards we set in terms of safety and quality. However, there are occasions when a product falls below these standards, and threatens the health and safety of consumers. This is where stringent controls and effective information exchange come into play. The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed serves as an important reassurance to citizens that if a problem does occur in the food chain, it can be swiftly addressed, thus minimising any potential risk to the consumer. “

There are a number of likely reasons for the rise in the number of notifications – more pro-active reporting by Member States, improved controls in the new Member States, and an increase in food imports due to enlargement, which means more border controls. The number of RASFF notifications has risen steadily each year, indicating that it is becoming more and more established as the first port of call of Member States when they detect food safety problems on their markets.

Alerts and Information

The report breaks down the overall number of notifications in 2005 into alert (956) and information (2202) notifications. Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting the risk is on the market and immediate action is required. The majority (61%) of alert notifications in 2005 related to products originating in the EU, with fish and fishery products (20%), meat and meat products (18%) and herbs and spices (11%) being the main products concerned. Information notifications are sent when a risk has been identified but immediate action by other

Member States is not necessary as the product has not reached their market e.g. consignments stopped at the borders. Most information notifications (78%) were on products originating in third countries, and over 1/3 of these were related to nuts and nut products.

Ensuring safe imports

Overall, 46% of all notifications related to products rejected at the EU border due to the fact that they were deemed to pose a risk to food safety. In order to avoid the recurrence of the problem detected, the RASFF informs the third country from which the product at risk originated. In 2005, 2188 information notes were transmitted to third countries about products they had exported which were identified as risks. In the most serious cases, official letters were sent to competent authorities of the exporting countries concerned, who were then expected to follow up with measures such as the delisting of establishments, suspension of exports or intensification of controls.

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