The European Commission has adopted a package of measures to strengthen the enforcement of health and safety standards for the whole agri-food chain. Food safety is essential to ensure consumers’ confidence and sustainability of food production.
The package of measures provide a modernised and simplified, more risked-based approach to the protection of health and more efficient control tools to ensure the effective application of the rules guiding the operation of the food chain.
The package responds to the call for better simplification of legislation and smarter regulation thus reducing administrative burden for operators and simplifying the regulatory environment. Special consideration is given to the impact of this legislation on SMEs and micro enterprises which are exempted from the most costly and burdensome elements in the legislation.
The current body of EU legislation covering the food chain consists of almost 70 pieces of legislation. The new package of reform will cut this down to 5 pieces of legislation and will also reduce the red-tape on processes and procedures for farmers, breeders and food business operators (producers, processors and distributors) to make it easier for them to carry out their profession.
Tonio Borg, Health and Consumer Commissioner, says: “The agri-food industry is the second largest economic sector in the EU, employing over 48 million people and is worth some €750 billion a year.Europehas the highest food safety standards in the world. However, the recent horsemeat scandal has shown that there is room for improvement, even if no health risk emerged.” He adds: “In a nutshell, the package aims to provide smarter rules for safer food.”
Businesses will benefit from simpler, science and risk-based rules in terms of reduced administrative burden, more efficient processes and measures to finance and strengthen the control and eradication of animal diseases and plant pests. Consumers will benefit from safer products and a more effective and more transparent system of controls along the chain.
The Commission has recognised the need to strengthen the instruments available to the competent authorities in the Member States to check compliance with EU legislation on the ground (through controls, inspections and tests).
Recent food scandals have shown once more the need for more effective action on the part of enforcement authorities to protect consumers and honest operators alike from the risks (also in economic terms) which may arise from breaches of the rules along the chain.
The new rules follow a more risk based approach thus allowing competent authorities to focus their resources on the more relevant issues.
The current system of fees to finance the effective implementation of these controls within a sustainable system along the whole chain will be extended to other sectors within the chain which are currently not charged.
Microenterprises will be exempted from such fees, but not from controls, in order not to affect their competitiveness.
Member States will also be asked to fully integrate anti-fraud checks into their national control plans and to ensure that financial penalties in these cases are set at truly dissuasive amounts.
Other EU institutions, including the European Parliament and the Council will consider the Commission’s package of measures and will adopt their positions in due course. At this stage, it can be estimated that the package will enter into force in 2016.