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Training of food safety control authorities
The Commission is exploring options for setting up a Community training system for the staff of national authorities responsible for verifying compliance with Community obligations in the area of food safety. Training for such staff in the Member States and third countries, particularly in developing countries, is an essential factor in guaranteeing food safety and protecting consumers.
Commission Communication of 20 September 2006: "Better training for safer food" [COM(2006) 519 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In this communication, the Commission assesses the various potential options for organising training for the staff of national authorities responsible for verifying that Community legislation on food safety is being observed. Such programmes could be opened up to participants from third countries, in particular those from developing countries, with a view to promoting international cooperation and dialogue with the European Union's trading partners.
The Community rules cover the areas of food, feed, animal health, animal welfare and plant health. They implement initiatives taken at international level, notably by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Codex Alimentarius, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Together they constitute a complex body of legislation which has contributed to the smooth functioning of the internal market while guaranteeing a high level of consumer protection.
It is vital that these rules are fully respected by operators in the sector (producers, processors, preservers and distributors, including importers and businesses based in third countries). For this reason, the competent authorities in the Member States must have the appropriate technical knowledge, including awareness of the Community rules on food legislation, food hazards and market mechanisms, to enable them to effectively verify compliance with the Community rules. The competent authorities in third countries must also ensure that the Community rules are being observed in the case of animals, animal products, plants or food for human or animal consumption intended for export to the EU, and must therefore also have the appropriate technical knowledge.
The national authorities need adequate training and regular updating of their knowledge in the area of food safety, as has been recognised by Regulation (EC) No 882/2004.
A Community training strategy would have the following benefits:
- greater uniformity of control procedures, methods and results;
- more effective control, thereby improving food safety and animal and plant health;
- standardised control procedures creating a more equitable situation for the businesses subject to them, including those outside the EU;
- better food safety standards in third countries, particularly developing countries;
- optimal use of Community and national resources involved in the training process;
- no need for new explanatory and interpretative texts.
Most Member States organise training, but its degree of development varies widely. Various instruments are available which could help third countries, and particularly the developing countries, to assimilate the Community regulations and standards and promote awareness of them, in particular through Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 and the European Neighbourhood Policy (technical assistance, joint projects, etc.).
The Commission has already organised and continues to organise training in food safety, including that based on Decision 90/424/EEC on expenditure in the veterinary field, ad hoc training on very specific issues, training organised by the Community Reference Laboratories for national laboratory staff and training organised by other Commission bodies such as the Joint Research Centre.
What form will the future Community training system take?
The Commission considers that training food sector professionals other than officials of the national authorities responsible for controls would encourage greater compliance with Community rules. Community legislation, however, makes provision for financing training only for the staff of the competent authorities, thereby excluding representatives of businesses in the sector. The latter would still be able to take advantage of training organised at the initiative of Member States, but at their own expense.
The Commission would take charge of certain basic activities such as setting priorities and establishing an annual or multiannual training programme, regularly monitoring the quality of training and training materials and putting in place the procedures needed for the system to operate fluently. The Commission could be assisted in the management of these tasks by the Member States and certain non-governmental organisations.
The Commission sets out certain criteria for the Community training system. It should, for example, be complementary to training organised at national level. It should be based on clear priorities, with the emphasis on the European dimension of official controls, and cover all areas of food safety. It should be flexible, of high quality and based on transparency and continuity. Finally, the Commission should maintain control over the system, particularly as regards the general orientation of the training and any changes to its content.
The Commission also considers that cooperation with national training organisations would bring significant advantages in terms of flexibility, experience, resources and visibility.
Potential training options
The Commission is evaluating four options for training organised by its own departments: contract-based training, training by its own specialised service, or the use of an executive agency or regulatory agency.
According to the Commission, the most attractive options are the conclusion of one or more contracts by the Commission or the use of an executive agency. The first option would have the advantage of flexibility and adaptability vis-à-vis the Commission's priorities.
Management of the training programme by an existing or newly created executive agency would enable the Commission to maintain overall control of the programme while delegating technical functions, such as selecting participants, logistical arrangements, the training provided, monitoring of results and networking with national training agencies, to the agency. The Commission plans a cost-benefit analysis to assess the feasibility of this option.
The alternative options of setting up a regulatory agency working independently of the Commission or organising training by a specialist service within the Commission are not considered effective solutions, particularly in view of the extensive resources required.