Europe looks to overhaul food safety system

The European Commission (EC) this week adopted a group of measures to simplify and improve the food chain in member countries.

The package also cuts down the amount of legislation surrounding the food chain from the current 70 pieces of legislation to only five, as represented in the package. The new approach also aims to move toward more risk-based and scientific regulations, according to a statement from the EC, the executive body of the European Union (EU).

Officials hope the new rules will make the system more transparent while also better protecting consumer health.

Europe still is dealing with the fallout from the discovery of horse meat and swine DNA in beef products. Although officials have said the scandal for the most part represented a food quality rather than a food safety issue, it still caused consumers, the food industry and regulatory agencies to re-evaluate the way they look at the food chain.

“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. Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world,” said Tonio Borg, the EU’s Health and Consumer Commissioner, in a statement.  “However, the recent horsemeat scandal has shown that there is room for improvement, even if no health risk emerged. Today’s package of reforms comes at an opportune moment as it shows that the system can respond to challenges; it also takes on board some of the lessons learned. In a nutshell, the package aims to provide smarter rules for safer food.”

However, small and medium-sized enterprises and microenterprises are exempt from the “most costly and burdensome elements” in the package, the EU notes. Microenterprises will be exempt from fees but not from controls, they add.

The package now moves to the European Parliament and Council. The Commission expects the package will be implemented in 2016.

Here are some of the highlights (you can find them all here):

  • Moving to a single piece of legislation based on prevention rather than treatment for animal health.
  • Create a common system for disease monitoring and control.
  • Update plant health protocols to prevent new pests from entering the EU.
  • Create simpler and more flexible rules for those selling seeds and other “plant reproductive material.”

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