Brussels, 10 September 2010
Food safety remains a priority in the EU and beyond
In 2009 the number of notifications in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reached a total of nearly 8000, a 12% increase compared to 2008 and an all-time-high number. The record number was established because RASFF members sent more follow-up notifications, also for less urgent problems. There were 557 alert notifications reporting on serious risks found in products on the market, a small increase compared to 2008.
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli said: "We cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to food safety, even if 2009 is the first year since long without any significant incidents being reported in the RASFF. The high number of RASFF notifications shows that Member States are very willing to cooperate beyond their national borders to safeguard our high level of food safety in the EU. The figures also indicate that Member States are sending more follow-up notifications, thereby giving other countries, including third countries, the information they need to act quickly and protect their consumers."
The RASFF is a tool enabling 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, Commission, EFSA, ESA, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland) 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 had been averted before they could have done any harm to consumers.
In 2009, RASFF welcomed its 34th member, Switzerland (as for now a partial member only, for products of animal origin. The Swiss Confederation has transmitted 5 notifications in its capacity as member of RASFF and as many as 15 other notifications, which the Commission forwarded on behalf of Switzerland. At the occasion of the 30-year anniversary of RASFF, the Commission organised an international RASFF conference with representatives from over 90 countries looking at the future of RASFF. A new RASFF portal web site ec.europa.eu/rasff was inaugurated, allowing the public a look inside the RASFF.
Improved communication with third countries
In 2009 more than 60 countries that are not member of RASFF were connected to RASFF Window, a new online platform that allows countries to download RASFF notifications. This is only the beginning: the Commission continues its efforts to support these countries in setting up their own alert systems, through the Better Training for Safer Food programme. Three seminars have taken place in Vietnam and Macao, for Asian countries and in South Africa for the African continent. A mission in Indonesia was the first of a series of sustained training missions, where EU experts are sent on the spot to help authorities to set up their alert system.
Making imports safer
More than four out of every 10 notifications in 2009 were about products rejected at the EU border due to a risk they were found to pose to food safety. When such a product is identified, the RASFF informs the third country in question, in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem, in the majority of cases through its new RASFF Window platform. When a serious and persistent problem is detected, the Commission sends a letter to the national authorities of the third country concerned, so that they implement corrective measures such as delisting establishments, blocking exports or intensifying controls.
Alerts, Information notifications and Border Rejections
The RASFF report breaks down the overall number of notifications in 2009 into alert (557), information (1191) and border rejection (1456) notifications. Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting a serious risk is already on the market and immediate action is required.
Two-thirds of alert notifications in 2009 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 pathogenic micro-organisms, allergens, heavy metals and mycotoxins.
Information notifications are sent when a risk has been identified but immediate action by other Member States is not necessary either because the product is not yet or not anymore on the market or because the risk is of a non-serious nature. Most information notifications (61%) were on products originating in third countries. Among the risks most reported for information notifications were the presence of pathogenic micro-organisms, unauthorised genetically modified food or feed, heavy metals and pesticide residues.
Border rejection notifications concern products that were refused entry into the Community and were given another destination or were destroyed. 38% of border rejections concerned products refused entry because of too high levels of mycotoxins.
For more information, see:
Also see MEMO/10/399