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Brussels, 28 November 2002

Hygiene package: Commissioner David Byrne welcomes political agreement on animal health rules

Today the Agriculture Council reached political agreement on the proposed animal health rules for the production, processing, distribution and introduction into the European Union of products of animal origin intended for human consumption. The draft law is part of the hygiene package presented by the European Commission in 2000, which will give food operators primary responsibility for food safety right through the food chain from farm to fork. It simplifies and strengthens animal health requirements inside the EU and requirements for the introduction of goods of animal origin intended for human consumption into the EU from other countries.

"This is another example of our commitment to maintain a high animal health status in the EU following the foot and mouth disease crisis last year," said David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcoming the Council's agreement. "The main development in this Directive is that it strengthens existing legislation on the introduction into the EU of products of animal origin for human consumption that do not conform to EU animal health requirements, so that such goods can no longer transit or be stored in the EU. In addition, current legislation is extended to cover a broader area including not only trade between Member States but also processing and distribution in each Member State."

The proposal that was agreed by Council today lays down animal health rules for products of animal origin such as fresh meat, meat products, poultry, rabbit, game meat, milk and milk products. The total prohibition on introducing products not conforming to EU animal health requirements will mean that transit and storage of such goods will no longer be allowed once the Directive is implemented by Member States. However, transhipment, i.e. direct movements between planes or ships in the same airport or port, may continue to be allowed by Member States.

The proposed Directive recasts seven existing Directives concerning animal health rules for trade and import of products of animal origin. It is intended to simplify existing rules while strengthening animal health guarantees for such products. Since nearly all the implementing rules in this area are already well established, the proposal has been changed from a Regulation to a Directive and has been drafted as a rather short and flexible piece of legislation. In addition, this text will provide the legal basis to amend existing import conditions.

What is in the hygiene package?

The hygiene package, one of the key elements of the recast of food legislation, is composed of five parts. The first four are proposed legislative acts: (I) general hygiene of foodstuffs, (II) hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, (III) official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and (IV) animal health rules for products of animal origin for human consumption. Part five is a Directive repealing the previously existing legislation.

The four proposals will merge, harmonise and simplify the EU hygiene legislation that was previously scattered over 17 separate Directives and instead create a single, transparent hygiene policy. This policy will be applicable to all food operators and includes effective instruments to manage food safety and any future food crises throughout the food chain.

At its June 2002 meeting, the Agriculture Council reached an agreement on the first part and agreement on the second part is expected at the December 2002 meeting. The third proposal needs to go through first reading in the European Parliament, which has appointed Horst Schnellhardt as rapporteur and should adopt its report in March 2003. The fourth part is the proposal that was agreed today by the Agriculture Council.

Next steps

The proposal does not need to go back to the European Parliament since it has already given its advice on the proposal in 2002 in accordance with Article 37, which requires consultation of the Parliament. The Directive will enter into force on the 1 January 2005 after the formal adoption of the Council. Over the next two years the Commission will need to draft a number of Decisions to implement harmonised measures, for example concerning transit arrangements, as required by the Directive prior to its full implementation by the Member States. These measures will be discussed, and the opinion of the Member States sought, under the normal Standing Committee procedures.

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