Brussels, 23 July 2008
In 2007 there was a record number of notifications sent to the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) –7,354 altogether– indicating that this tool which ensures the safety of food for Europeans is functioning well. According to the "2007 RASFF annual report ", last year 961 alerts and 2015 information notifications were received, giving rise to 4339 additional information notifications. This high number is mainly attributed to the increase of the additional information notifications – up by 13.5% compared to 2006. Most notifications in 2007 concerned official controls on the internal market (43%), while 42% concerned products from non-EU countries which were blocked at the border by EU control authorities when the risks were identified. Just as in 2006, the product category for which the most alerts were sent was fish products (21%).
Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou said: “Europe's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed plays an important role in our efforts to ensure a high level of food safety for EU citizens. It allows us to prevent food safety crises, and identify problems at an early stage, thereby minimising potential health threats. Awareness about the RASFF is rising, it is becoming stronger and more effective as time goes by, and serves as a model to other countries looking for ways to improve the levels of consumer protection.“
The RASFF is a tool enabling the quick and effective exchange of information between Member States and the Commission when risks to human health are detected in the food and feed chain. All Members of the RASFF (EU-27, European Commission, EFSA as well as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to in the shortest time possible. Thanks to RASFF, many food safety risks have been averted before they could harm consumers.
Alerts and Information
The RASFF report breaks down the overall number of notifications in 2007 into alert (961) and information (2015) notifications. Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting the risk is already on the market and immediate action is required. The majority (65%) of alert notifications in 2007 related to products originating in the EU, and most of these problems were detected by controls carried out on the market. Among the risks most reported through these alerts were the presence of potentially pathogenic micro-organisms, foreign bodies (such as glass fragments in yoghurt), heavy metals (such as mercury in fish) and mycotoxins.
Information notifications are sent when a risk has been identified but immediate action by other Member States is not necessary as the product has not reached their market. Most information notifications (73%) were on products originating in non EU countries.
Making imports safer
In more than four out of every ten cases in 2007 the RASFF was notified about risky products that were rejected at the EU border. When such a product is identified, the RASFF informs the importing country in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Last year, 1957 information notes were transmitted to non-EU countries about unsafe products originating in their territory. When a serious and persistent problem is detected, the Commission sends a letter to the national authorities of the country concerned, asking them to implement corrective measures. The possibilities range from a delisting of establishments to blocking exports or intensifying controls.
Making food safer
The RASFF helps to identify where progress has been made and where problems still persist. For example, in the case of aflatoxin – a highly carcinogenic substance – most of the notifications in 2007 concerned pistachio nuts. The number of notifications on Iranian pistachio nuts dropped over the years. However, the quantity of pistachio imports for the period 2005-2007 remained stable, indicating that the situation is improving.
Promoting food safety worldwide
The RASFF annual report also outlines upcoming activities. One example is a project to promote the idea of a worldwide Rapid Alert System for food safety. The Commission has helped interested countries outside the EU to develop a national system to improve consumer protection and organised training seminars in 2007 under the initiative "Better Training for Safer Food". The Commission has also financially supported a regional pilot Rapid Alert System for Food, set up between Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines and Myanmar. The ultimate goal of the Commission's overall efforts in this field will be to join all of these national and regional systems in a global network of food safety alert systems.
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