EC Adopts Smarter Rules for Safer Food

EU - The European Commission has proposed a landmark package to modernise, simplify and strengthen the agri-food chain in Europe
calendar icon 8 May 2013
clock icon 6 minute read

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. Today's 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, said: "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. 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".

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.

Main Elements of the Proposal

Official controls

  • The Commission 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.

Animal health

  • The package will introduce a single piece of legislation to regulate animal health in the EU based on the principle that "prevention is better than cure".
  • It aims to improve standards and to provide a common system to better detect and control disease and tackle health, food and feed safety risks in a coordinated way.
  • This enhanced system, allied with better rules on identification and registration, will give those working to protect our food chain, such as farmers and veterinarians, the capability to react quickly and to limit spread of disease and minimise its impact on livestock, and on consumers.
  • Furthermore, it introduces categorization/prioritisation of diseases, which require intervention at EU level. As such, it enables a more risk based approach and appropriate use of resources
  • Sufficient flexibility is provided to adjust the animal health measures to different sizes and types of establishments (e.g. Small and medium enterprises, hobby holding, etc.) to different local circumstances in particular with respect to registration and approval requirements for establishments and the keeping animals and products.
  • On a broader scale the law needs to be flexible and robust enough to provide for the effective response of the whole EU in the event of important climate changes thus giving us the tools to deal with new and unknown emerging risks so that we can adjust quickly to new scientific developments and international standards.

Plant health

  • The value of crops grown in the EU is €205 billion annually. Without the protection afforded by plant health rules this sector would suffer severe economic damage.
  • Europe's agriculture, forests and natural heritage are being threatened by pests and diseases that attack plants. The introduction of new pest species has increased as a result of the globalisation of trade and climate change.
  • To prevent new pests from establishing in the EU and to protect plant growers as well as the forestry sector, the Commission proposes to upgrade the existing plant health regime
  • More focus will be placed on high risk trade coming from third countries and increased traceability of planting material on the internal market
  • The legislation also introduces better surveillance and early eradication of outbreaks of new pest species and financial compensation for growers hit by such quarantine pests.

Plant reproductive material (including seeds)

  • Sixty per cent of the world export value in seeds originates from the EU.
  • The package provides more simplified and flexible rules for the marketing of seeds and other plant reproductive material with the aim to ensure productivity, adaptability and diversity of Europe's crop production and forests and to facilitate their trading.
  • The broad choice of material and the improved testing requirements will contribute to protection of biodiversity and to breeding oriented towards sustainable agriculture.
  • The use of seed in private gardens is not covered by the EU legislation and private gardeners can continue to buy any plant material and sell their seed in small quantities Moreover, it will be clarified that any non-professional (e.g. private gardeners) can exchange seed with other private gardeners without falling under the rules of the proposed Regulation.
  • The aim of the legislation is to introduce a broader choice for the users thus including new improved and tested varieties, material not fulfilling the variety definition (heterogeneous material), traditional varieties and niche market material.
  • However the new rules, in line with the Commission's better regulation agenda, take into account the type of material, production conditions and the size of the business involved. Thus for old traditional varieties and for heterogeneous material, there are only light registration rules. Such categories are exempted from the testing and other requirements of the legislation.
  • In addition, administrative burden is reduced for micro-enterprises who can market any type of material as 'niche market material' without registration.
  • Furthermore, micro-enterprises are generally exempted from registration fees.

Next Steps

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 come into force in 2016.

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