The Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for the authorisation of feed additives was inaugurated yesterday in Geel, Belgium.
Feed additives are used in animal feed to improve the productivity or health of the animals. Before being authorised, all feed additives must undergo a safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the CRL will evaluate the analytical methods proposed to detect the presence of feed additives.
The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been nominated as the CRL for Feed Additives, which is established at the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) in Geel.
"Human and animal health is of major concern to us all," said research commissioner Louis Michel.
"The new and improved authorisation process for feed additives requires top notch competence and research capacity. I am confident that the IRMM has what it takes carry out these tasks."
According to a recent American Academy of Microbiology report, The Role of Antibiotics in Agriculture, intensive and extensive antibiotic use leads to the establishment of a pool of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment.
The AAM report claims that both pathogenic bacteria and organisms that do not cause disease may become resistant to antibiotics, and bacteria of human and animal origin can serve as reservoirs for resistance genes.
The issue of antibiotics entering the food chain is especially pertinent in the UK, where traces of a nitrofuran, a banned veterinary medicine, were discovered in organic chicken last month. Up to 23 tonnes of the affected chicken had been distributed across the UK.
Under EU law it is illegal to use nitrofurans in food producing animals. Some studies have shown that it could increase people's risk of getting cancer.
David Byrne, the commissioner responsible for health and consumer protection, argued that strengthening the rules on the safety of animal feed fits in well with the EU's integrated approach to the food chain.
"To maintain consumer confidence, we must now ensure that these rules are strictly applied," he said.
In modern agriculture, compound feeds have been developed consisting of very diverse feed materials like grains and by-products from food processing combined with feed additives.
There are at present some 700 substances and preparations authorised as feed additives by EU legislation. These include nutritional additives like vitamins and minerals, sensory additives, or technological additives like preservatives and emulsifiers.
Before placing a feed additive on the market, the interested party has to apply for an authorisation, providing data demonstrating that the feed additive does not have an adverse effect on human health, animal health or the environment.
EFSA carries out the scientific safety assessment while the CRL evaluates the analytical methods proposed to be used to determine the presence of the additive in feed and its possible residues in food. Methods for the analysis of residues in food are particularly important in the cases when the authorisation establishes maximum residue levels (MRLs) in animal-derived food products.
The CRL will also maintain reference samples of all authorised additives and will carry out related tasks.
The setting up of the Community Reference Laboratory is part of the modernisation of the system for the authorisation of feed additives as laid down by Regulation 1831/2003. This regulation entered fully into application in October 2004.
Some 90 applications for the authorisation of feed additives have been submitted during 2004 to the Commission.