Brussels, 10 September 2002
EU enlargement: Questions and Answers on food safety issues
Food safety is an integral part of the EU policy on consumer protection and health. Its "farm to table" approach has thus also to be adopted by the accession countries. This is a significant challenge where progress has been made but further steps still have to be accomplished.
What is covered in the EU enlargement negotiations as regards food safety?
Food safety issues are spread over two areas of the accession negotiations:
Food legislation includes general rules for hygiene and control, food labelling, food additives, food packaging and genetically modified foods.
Veterinary legislation includes animal health, animal welfare, animal identification and registration, internal market control systems, external border controls and public health requirements for establishments in relation to animal products.
Phytosanitary legislation includes plant health (harmful organisms, pesticides), seeds and propagating material, and plant hygiene.
Animal feed legislation includes the safety of feed materials and additives, labelling, contaminants in feed, controls and inspections.
What is the basic approach of the European Commission to negotiations on food safety?
Food safety is an element of the enlargement process where the EU should not take risks that might lead to lower food safety standards or to any risks for consumers. Candidate Countries must therefore recognise that compliance with the Union's acquis on food safety is essential.
The existing body of EU law ("acquis") related to food safety covers a large number of legislative acts, many of which are broad in scope and demanding in terms of transposition, implementation and enforcement. It is vitally important to ensure that the "acquis" is fully transposed into the national legislation of each candidate country and that administrative structures and procedures are strengthened and reformed in good time prior to accession.
The Commission will however consider properly justified requests for transitional arrangements, provided these do not undermine the principles already set out by the Union.
What is the state of play of negotiations for each candidate country?
Negotiations on Chapter 1 (Free Movement of Goods) are already provisionally closed for 11 candidate countries (all except Romania). None of the candidate countries have requested transitional periods in relation to food legislation.
Negotiations on Chapter 7 (Agriculture) are currently ongoing with 11 candidate countries. For those countries which are ready, the chapter should be closed by the end of 2002.
An agreement on the veterinary, phytosanitary and animal feed part of Chapter 7 was reached with 8 candidate countries (all "Laeken" countries except Poland and Malta).
What are the main outstanding issues on food safety with the candidate countries?
The key issues are:
Currently there are some 285 EU Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) operated by national authorities. Most of these are ports and airports, others are road or rail links located in particular at the eastern borders of the Union. The accession of the 12 candidate countries would move the eastern frontier to the borders with Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia and Turkey.
Candidate countries have proposed a total of 87 BIPs to be approved for checking imports into the Union. On the question of Border Inspection Posts at the future external borders, the EU has made clear that no compromise concerning facilities or procedures would be possible. As a consequence none of them applied for a transitional arrangement. However, time is short and a lot of work remains to be done. The Commission will monitor developments carefully in order to guarantee the functioning of these BIPs at the time of accession.
Setting up Border Inspection Posts for veterinary and other controls in the candidate countries requires buildings, equipment and staff to be in place to carry out the required border checks. EU legislation sets out minimum standards for BIP facilities, depending on the sort of products to be checked. In practice veterinary controls include checks of documentation and physical checks of the animals or animal products. Following these checks at the first border crossing point into the EU, animals and products, in principle, can circulate freely in the internal market. It is therefore essential that BIP facilities and procedures are adequate to maintain security against sub-standard imports.
What is the problem with upgrading food processing establishments?
Nearly all candidate countries have requested transitional periods, for an average period of 3 years after accession, for upgrading food processing plants. The European Commission required candidate countries to present detailed information on the situation of the food processing establishments and for each of those which request a transitional period a binding plan for upgrading. For some of the candidate countries the EU has already accepted transitional arrangements for a limited number of establishments. Severe conditions have however been imposed as regards the marketing and the special marking of the products coming from establishments in transition.
Products coming from establishments in transition must stay on the domestic market of the candidate countries and cannot be sold within the EU. Therefore these products will have to be clearly marked so as to distinguish them from those that can be traded within the internal market. The Commission will closely monitor the situation in the establishments and the candidate countries will have to report annually on developments.
Examples of standards to be met by slaughterhouses, food processing plants and laboratories?
EU food safety and veterinary/phytosanitary legislation sets high standards. Therefore most candidate countries need to make major efforts in organising effective lines of responsibility for food safety, in upgrading plants, getting analytical and laboratory capacity up and running and training personnel for inspection services, laboratory staff etc.
Most candidate countries have many small slaughterhouses that may not fulfill all the detailed requirements of EU legislation governing the infrastructure and organisation of the slaughter chain. For example, they may not have a separate space for ante-mortem inspection, or may not follow precisely the slaughter procedures as prescribed.
There has been a rationalisation process going on. This will continue up to accession. We would expect those establishments which at that stage do not meet our rules and which are not subject to transitional arrangements to be closed.
In food factories, implementation of EU rules may mean rebuilding part of the factory and re-training staff. To implement effective pesticide monitoring, for example, candidate countries need to set up a sampling programme, an analytical programme, have the necessary laboratory infrastructure and equipment and have properly qualified staff. They also must put in place effective procedures for identifying lots, reporting results of analysis and for taking appropriate action should problems arise.
Laboratories need to be accredited according norms on good laboratory practice, such as ISO. Similar requirements apply to the monitoring of residues such as hormones, antibiotics and contaminants, and also testing for the presence of diseases, such as BSE.
Do the candidate countries have a specific problem with BSE?
All candidate countries recognise that the risk of BSE is real and are progressively implementing measures to manage that risk. They have all agreed to comply fully with all EU legislation at the time of accession. This includes active BSE surveillance, removal of SRM from the food chain at slaughter, the effective implementation of feed bans and of systems for the identification of cattle and bovine products.
Eight countries have already launched wide-scale BSE testing and the remainder are planning to start before the end of 2002. Certain countries have however requested transitional periods for complying with the rules on animal waste treatment.
In the context of the GBR (Geographical BSE Risk Assessment) exercise, the countries that have been assessed so far have been classified as level III likely or confirmed that BSE is present at a low level. This applies to Slovenia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Cyprus, Hungary and Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Romania. Four candidate countries have found one or more confirmed cases of BSE (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland).
European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, David Byrne has written to a number of candidate countries to express his concern about their current arrangements and the urgent need for improvement. There can be no compromise on this.
What has the Commission done to ensure a "farm to table" approach in the candidate countries and to enhance food safety?
In addition to the normal negotiation process, David Byrne has visited some of the candidate countries to emphasise the importance of food safety. He has asked each country to prepare a food safety strategy, outlining the plans for transposition and implementation as well as for co-ordination between the administrative and enforcement services responsible for food safety. The objective of such a strategy is to make candidate countries focus on this essential part of EU legislation in the broadest sense, thus involving all departments concerning food legislation in the accession countries.
All candidate countries have responded positively and prepared a food safety strategy document. The Food and Veterinary office is now checking the situation on the ground.
What financial help is provided to the candidate countries to upgrade their food safety systems?
The main instruments are PHARE and SAPARD.
Investment for upgrading Border Inspection Posts are in many cases assisted through funding from the PHARE programme. Financing for upgrading (adapting, rebuilding or creating) plants processing and marketing meat, dairy, fish and other agricultural products is provided through SAPARD programmes. Almost a billion Euros have been earmarked for this. BSE testing in the candidate countries will, in future, also be co-financed under the PHARE programme and most of the candidate countries will make use of this.
How is surveillance and monitoring of implementation organised?
Monitoring the process of transposition and implementation is the major task for the Commission between now and accession. During a first phase, monitoring concentrated mainly on progress with the transposition of legislation. Now that the legal process is progressing, the focus shifts towards checking the implementation of new rules on the ground.
The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) plays an important role monitoring the level of observance of food hygiene and of veterinary and plant health legislation in the candidate countries. Inspection visits to applicant countries will be their top priority for 2002. General assessment missions to all candidate countries have been undertaken between April 2001 and March 2002. These missions covered all aspects of the food safety acquis including animal health, animal welfare and plant health (Chapter 1 and 7). They aimed at gaining an overall impression of the preparedness of applicant countries for accession.
Subsequently, more detailed assessments have started. Their objective is to monitor the progress the accession countries make in implementing EU law. For 2002 they will mainly concentrate on 10 of the candidate countries with 4-5 inspections each covering the following five broad areas:
Live animals and food of animal origin including establishments
Import controls including BIPs
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) and feedingstuffs
General food hygiene controls
This inspection programme takes up 25% of the FVO resources.
David Byrne will share the results of these visits with the Member States.
Will the candidate countries manage to meet food safety standards before accession?
It is too early to say. Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. However, all candidate countries are working hard towards meeting the required standards. The Commission will keep up the pressure to make improvements but time is now short. In any event, the EU will not compromise its standards.