Brussels, 20 July 2012
Food: Latest Report shows EU Controls ensure our food is safe
A European Commission report published today shows that thanks to the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) many food safety risks have been averted or mitigated and safety controls ensure our food is safe. RASFF plays a key role in ensuring safety from "farm to fork", by triggering a rapid reaction when a food safety risk is detected. All members of the RASFF system1 are swiftly informed of serious risks found in food or feed so that together they can react to food safety threats in a coordinated way to protect the health of EU citizens.
John Dalli, Commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, said: "European consumers enjoy the highest food safety standards in the world. The EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed is a key tool as it allows risks to be identified and removed from the European market. RASFF reinforces the confidence of our consumers in our food and feed safety system. In 2011, we dealt with a number of important crises such as the effects of the Fukushima nuclear incident, the dioxin and the E. coli crisis. The EU managed to tackle them and the lessons we all learnt will no doubt guide us to do even better in the future."
In 2011, 9157 notifications in RASFF related to non-compliances with EU food legislation were reported, of which 617 concerned serious risks.
Most of the notifications were follow-ups (5345) rather than new (3812) notifications. This reflects an increased effectiveness of the system with a better targeting and a more extensive follow-up.
Out of the 3812 new notifications: 3139 concerned food, 361 concerned feed and 312 concerned food contact materials. Some of the most reported issues were aflatoxins in feed, dried fruits and nuts and migration of chemical substances from kitchen utensils from China.
Making imports safer
One of the particular successes was the strengthening of safety checks at EU borders. Almost half of the notifications related to food and feed rejected at EU borders. When such a product is identified, RASFF informs the non-EU country in question asking them to take corrective action and to prevent the problem from happening again. When a serious and persistent problem is detected, the country in question is asked by the Commission to apply urgent corrective measures such as delisting establishments, blocking exports or intensifying controls.
Mitigating risks and managing crises
The RASFF system has helped us respond to, and mitigate, several serious foodborne outbreaks in recent years such as dioxin and E. coli crises. In 2011 RASFF played a key role in managing two major food safety incidences: Fukushima and E. coli.
E. coli crisis was one of the most serious foodborne outbreaks in EU history with more than 50 casualties, mainly in Germany. A taskforce of specialists worked round the clock to identify the source of the outbreak, to facilitate the rapid exchange of information which allowed food safety authorities to respond efficiently and mitigate the health and economic impact of the crisis.
Fukushima incident: Following the release of radioactivity from the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima in March 2011, the Commission asked EU Member States via RASFF to analyse the levels of radioactivity in feed and food imported from Japan. The Commission adopted a precautionary measure requiring pre-export checks to be carried out by the Japanese authorities on all exported feed and food from the affected zone, combined with random controls at the point of entry. The measures ensured a very high level of public health protection. RASFF was proven indispensable for an effective and rapid communication with Member States on the development of the situation, the measures to be taken, and the results of controls. The measures continue to apply in 2012 and are regularly reviewed.
A number of important lessons have been learned following the crisis in 2011 and are set out in a Commission document also presented today2. Some key areas highlighted are:
Enhance RASFF with the launch of iRASFF – an online notification platform which will help RASFF work faster and more efficiently than ever.
Review existing standard operating procedures for crisis management while allowing for sufficient flexibility.
Revise rules on traceability to increase the speed and efficiency for tracing back dangerous products and withdrawing them from the market.
Provide dedicated trainings on food-borne investigations and outbreak management as well as hygiene in primary production for major trading partners (through the EU Better training for safer food programme and in cooperation with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC)).
Develop specific rules on seeds and sprout production.
Improve coordination in crisis communication activities.
The Commission together with Member States will continue to enhance reporting systems which enable national authorities to better target their sample-taking and inspections in line with their existing resources.
Work will also continue to enhance the RASFF system and the way different networks and warning systems cooperate. There will be a focus on emerging risks as well as on implementing the actions identified in the lessons learnt paper.
For more information on RASFF:
Frédéric Vincent (+32 2 298 71 66)
Aikaterini Apostola (+32 2 298 76 24)
EU Member States, EEA countries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland), EFTA Secretariat, Switzerland, European Commission and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).