EC calls for streamlining of over-complex food import controls

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

Europe’s food import controls are fit for purpose but their fragmented and complicated nature means they are inconsistently applied across the economic bloc, according to a report from the European Commission (EC).

The body called for the streamlining of the complex framework governing scrutiny of food, animal feed, animals and plants, with a more “holistic​” approach to provide greater coherence. Improvements to legislation and safety tools such as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), as well as the better allocation of resources were also vital to boost the efficacy of the structure

But the EC stressed that while it had highlighted ways to improve import control methods, the current system was “effective"​ in ensuring consistent scrutiny across the EU’s 27 member states. Its proposals should be viewed as enhancements rather that a call to overall the system, it said.

Streamlining

The European Union (EU) is the world's largest importer of food and animal feed with imports of €85 billion for the period 2007-2009. Described as “pivotal to EU prosperity”,​ the food sector is the bloc’s largest manufacturing sector with a global annual turnover reaching €900bn, said the EC.

Food safety controls for the region are enshrined in the General Food Law (Regulation EC No 178/2002) and the complementary Official Food and Feed Control Regulations (EC 884/2004).

The Brussels report said that while the current risk and evidence system has worked well to date it has “different approaches towards the controls of food, feed, animals and plants which can be very complex for those implementing the controls”.

It acknowledged that while the two main food safety regulations have brought “some overall coherence”​, this has only been achieved by adding a further legislative layer – which has in turn made the system complex and difficult to implement.

“There is a need, therefore, to streamline the control system in place by improving the assessment of risk and the consistency and efficiency of the mechanisms in place, without, however, questioning the basic assumptions upon which they are built,”​ added the report. “This should allow for more coherence and integration between the different control mechanisms in place.”

Improvements

The EC proposed to improve import controls by bringing forward amendments to the two major food and feed safety regulations designed to boost an integrated approach. Ideas being evaluated include the financing of official controls and new rules on veterinary medicine residues. New legislation on animal health and plant health was also being considered, it said.

Non-legislative improvements would include the upgrading of the TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) to become available to new users such as third countries and operators. A new E-system could also be used in the fight against fraud.

Brussels also tabled the possible development of RASFF, and it sister system EUROPHYT, as a “broader mechanism designed to ensure the traceability of border controls for all imports of food, feed and plants”.

Simplifying the system would allow for more efficient allocation of resources, it said. Better targeting of inspection would help avoid the over-inspection of low risk products, at the expense of allowing higher risk products enter the region unchecked.

“A more holistic approach will serve to reinforce the efficiency of the EU’s import control regime, ensure an optimal allocation of resources and make it easier to promote and defend the EU regulatory model”,​ concluded the body.

The EC said it was aiming to present its proposals to the European Parliament and Council during 2012.

Related topics: Europe, Safety, Regulation

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