Draft legislation on tightening food checks agreed in EU

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Istock
Picture: Istock
Draft plans to tighten up official controls along the food chain have been informally agreed in Europe.

The proposal for a regulation includes putting official controls relating to all sectors of the agri-food chain, which is currently split among 16 or so regulations or directives, into one text.

The rules will follow a risk-based approach, allowing authorities to focus resources on more relevant issues.

A vote on the text in the committee of permanent representatives (COREPER) will be held Wednesday (June 22) and by MEPs in the food safety committee in June or September.

The agreement between MEPs and the Dutch Presidency of the Council provides for unannounced, risk-based controls in all sectors, better enforcement against fraudulent or deceptive practices and import conditions for animals and products imported from third countries.

Restore confidence

Giovanni La Via, Environment Committee chairman, said the legislation will bring clear, common general principles to all sectors of the food chain.

“It was long overdue, as the agri-food chain becomes ever more complex. Parliament’s team, Council and the Commission worked to make controls more efficient, less bureaucratic and cheaper for operators,” ​he said.

“The aim is to protect consumers, with risk-based, more independent inspections, and to restore confidence after the recent scandals.”

The legislation aims to provide a more effective system in food and feed safety rules, veterinary and plant health requirements, organic production and protected geographical indication rules.

The Commission published a proposal to revise the rules on official controls in mid-2013​.

The main change to the system of financing planned in that proposal was the extension of mandatory fees to most controls performed on operators to ensure sufficient revenue for Member States to resource control activities.

It involved eight months of negotiations, according to rapporteur Karin Kadenbach.

“After the horse meat scandal, consumers had serious questions about the traceability of food, and the integrity of the meat supply chain,” ​she said.

“To this end, risk-based and unannounced controls from farm to fork in all areas covered by the regulation, including areas where fraudulent practices do not entail any risk for the health of the consumer (like in the organic sector), are paramount to restore the consumer's trust in the integrity of the food chain.

“I am also proud that Parliament managed to have the chapter on enforcement strengthened, in particular regarding the penalties to be applied in the event of intentional violations of the rules. I trust that really deterrent penalties will be a key tool to combat fraud in every area.”

Fight fraudulent practices

Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said it brings smarter rules for the enforcement of agri-food legislation a step closer.

“The new rules will contribute significantly to modernize and strengthen checks performed by public authorities, and to fight fraudulent and deceptive practices which hurt consumers and law-abiding businesses alike.”

Andriukaitis said the framework would be "future-proof", as it will allow control and enforcement action requirements to be adjusted to factor in new technologies, patterns of production or consumption, and hazards and risks.

“For the first time the comprehensive framework will also be applicable to controls performed to verify compliance with EU rules on plant health,” ​he said.

“Last but not least the new regulation establishes a fully integrated system of border checks and provides for the independence, quality and accountability of the enforcement actors in the Member States, thus improving the transparency of official controls.”

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