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Veterinary and phytosanitary inspections
In March 1996, the British Government published research results pointing to a possible link between BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease in humans. This triggered a deep crisis of confidence in the safety of the food offered to European consumers.
As a result of this crisis, the Commission decided to restructure its safety protection and food hygiene departments by separating the departments responsible for drawing up legislation, scientific consultation and inspection and by improving the transparency and dissemination of information.
At the heart of this restructuring, announced by President Santer in his address to the European Parliament in February 1997, were:
- the creation of eight committees to replace the scientific committees dealing with consumer health protection and a scientific steering committee, concerned mainly with the multidisciplinary aspects of BSE. The competences of five of these committees (those dealing with food, veterinary and phytosanitary issues) were transferred in 2003 to the European Food Safety Authority;
- the transformation of the Community Office for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection and Control, attached to the Directorate-General for Agriculture, into a Food and Veterinary Office attached to the Directorate-General for Consumer Policy and Consumer Health Protection.
The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO)
The FVO is responsible for monitoring Member States' and third countries' compliance with Community veterinary, phytosanitary and food hygiene legislation, thus helping to maintain consumer confidence in the safety of food products. To this end, the FVO performs audits, controls and inspections in situ to check whether the safety and food hygiene regulations are being observed along the entire production chain, either in Member States themselves or in countries which export to the EU. It then passes on its findings and recommendations to the national and Community authorities and the general public.
The FVO performs its monitoring function in accordance with the principles of independence, transparency and excellence. In concrete terms, the inspections and audits it carries out relate to:
- foodstuffs of animal origin, for which it examines monitoring systems in the Member States, the use of chemicals (veterinary medicinal products, growth stimulants, pesticides) and imported products;
- foodstuffs of vegetable origin, in particular pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables and organic fruit and vegetables, including imported products;
- animal health, notably epidemics (e.g. swine fever);
- animal welfare and zootechnics (transport, slaughtering, etc.);
- plant health (monitoring of organisms harmful to plants, genetically modified organisms, pesticides, organic agriculture).
During its first year, the FVO performed more than two hundred inspections in Member States and third countries.