Brussels, 5 December 2003
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 must thus also be adopted by the future Member States. This is a significant challenge where much progress has been made but further steps still have to be accomplished.
1. How is food safety covered in the Accession Treaty?
Enlargement negotiations were concluded in Copenhagen in December 2002. The ten new Member States(1) signed the Treaty of Accession and the Act of Accession attached to it in Athens on 16 April 2003. The foreseen date of accession is 1 May 2004. With this date the whole EU acquis (the existing body of EU law) will become effective in the new Member States. Negotiations continue for Bulgaria and Romania with 2007 as the target date for accession.
Food safety issues are spread over two areas of the accession negotiations:
Chapter 1 " Free Movement of Goods" covers food legislation;
Chapter 7 "Agriculture" covers veterinary and phytosanitary issues, and animal nutrition.
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.
2. What is the basic approach of the European Commission to enlargement and food safety?
Food safety is an element of the enlargement process where the EU made clear from the beginning that it will not accept a situation that might lead to lower food safety standards or to any risks for consumers. The new Member States recognise that compliance with the Union's acquis on food safety is essential.
The 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 new Member State and that administrative structures and procedures are strengthened and reformed in good time prior to accession.
The Commission has however considered a limited number of properly justified requests for transitional arrangements. In the veterinary and phytosanitary sector, transitional periods were negotiated on the basis that there should be no increased risk to public, animal or plant health in the EU.
3. What are the main issues on food safety with the new Member States?
The key issues are:
the capacity of the new Member States to implement EU compliant controls for trade inside the EU and for imports from third countries;
compliance with the high level of EU health protection rules regarding BSE;
bringing food processing establishments up to EU standards.
3a. How will the future external borders work?
EU controls on third country imports require a system of border inspection posts (BIPs) to be completed to EU standards at external borders with third countries. On this question the EU has made clear that no compromise concerning facilities or procedures would be possible. Only for the specific case of the temporary border between Hungary and Romania a special regime was agreed. Currently there are some 283 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 current eastern borders of the Union.
The accession of the 10 and later 12- new Member States will extend the eastern frontier with Russia and move the frontier eastwards to border with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey. New BIPs will equally have to be established along the borders with Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and with Macedonia.
In practice veterinary checks on imports include documentary, identity and physical checks of the animals or animal products presented. Following these checks at the first border crossing point into the EU, animals and products can in principle circulate freely in the internal market. It is therefore essential that BIP facilities and procedures are adequate to maintain animal and public health safety.
Setting up Border Inspection Posts for veterinary and other controls in the new Member States 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 type of products to be checked.
However, time is short and a lot of work remains to be done. On the technical level, work is progressing well, but all sectors of government in the new Member States need to work together. The Commission is monitoring developments carefully and only those BIPs fully ready at accession will be approved and listed. The situation in November 2003 indicates that around 20 BIPs are ready and could be approved now. In total some 50 BIPs have been put forward for being in compliance by the day of accession.
The Commission will need to take a legal decision through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health composed of Representatives of the Member States to approve veterinary BIPs.
3b. What is the situation with food processing establishments?
Bringing food processing establishments up to EU standards is a big challenge for the new Member States. A lot has been done and many establishments already fulfil the EU requirements. Others still have significant upgrading work to do before accession if they want to reach EU compliance. Six of the new Member States(2) have requested transitional periods to upgrade a limited number of food processing plants after accession. These transitional arrangements are limited in time and scope, lasting until 2006 or 2007 (see Annex). The European Commission required the new Member States to present detailed information on the situation of the food processing establishments and a binding plan for upgrading each of those which request a transitional period.
Additionally, severe conditions have been imposed as regards the marketing and the special marking of the products coming from establishments in transition: Products must stay on the domestic market of the new Member States 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 new Member States will have to report regularly on developments.
For establishments that have no transitional periods and do not fulfil EU legislation, the Treaty is clear. If they do not comply with EU standards by the time of accession, they will be closed down. The list of establishments in transition can be amended by Commission decision, but only to a limited extent.
3c. What are the standards to be met in the area of food safety ?
EU food safety and veterinary/phytosanitary legislation sets high standards in terms of transposing the legal requirements but particularly as regards the administrative structures which need to be in place. Therefore most new Member States need to make major efforts in putting the relevant legislation in place, 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.
At the moment, the new Member States have many agri-food establishments that may not fulfil the detailed requirements of EU legislation governing the infrastructure and organisation of the production chain. In food factories, implementation of EU rules may mean bigger investments in rebuilding/ refurbishing part of the factory.
To implement effective pesticide residue monitoring for example, the new Member States need to set up a sampling programme (covering both domestic production and imported food), 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 to 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.
3d. Do the future Member States have a specific problem with BSE?
All new Member States 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 specified risk materials (SRMs) from the food chain at slaughter, the effective implementation of feed bans and of systems for the identification of cattle and bovine products. All the countries are implementing a basic ban on feeding meat and bonemeal (MBM) to ruminants, but not all have implemented the total feed ban and others are still feeding MBM to pigs and poultry - a practice that is prohibited in the EU.
Large-scale BSE testing has been launched in the new Member States and the EU is co-financing the testing programme through Phare programmes.
The Commission will continue to closely monitor progress in implementing the BSE measures. There can be no compromise on this.
4. What financial help is provided to the new Member States to upgrade their food safety systems?
The main instruments are Phare and SAPARD.
Investment for upgrading Border Inspection Posts are for example in many cases assisted through funding from the Phare programme. BSE testing in the new Member States is also co-financed under the Phare programme and most of the new Member States are making use of this.
Co-financing for upgrading (adapting, rebuilding or creating) plants processing and marketing meat, dairy, fish and other agricultural products can be provided through SAPARD programmes. Almost a billion Euros have been earmarked for this.
5. How is the Commission monitoring the food safety situation in the new Member States?
Monitoring the process of transposition and implementation is the major task for the Commission between now and accession. The Commission will insist on the full transposition of the acquis by the time of accession.
The Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) plays an important role in monitoring the level of observance of food hygiene and of veterinary and phytosanitary legislation in the new Member States.
Missions to the candidate countries started in 2001, have been the top priority for 2002 and 2003 and will continue intensively until accession. From then on the FVO will carry out inspection missions like in the other Member States.
The objective of the enlargement missions is to monitor the progress the new Member States are making in implementing EU law and their own commitments. The following five broad areas are covered:
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 40% of the FVO's resources in 2003.
The Commission is sharing the results of these visits with the Member States.
6. How did the Commission assess the situation in the new Member States?
In its recent monitoring report, the Commission gave a green light for the Union's enlargement but made it clear that the future Member States must take immediate action to solve outstanding problems.
In the food safety area, these actions range from strengthening border controls, improving animal waste treatment, improving the standards of food processing establishments to increasing monitoring of pesticide and other residues in agricultural produce.
The new Member States will need to urgently address these issues are they to avoid the application of safeguard measures.
7. What will happen if the agreed food safety standards are not met by accession?
All future Member States are working hard towards meeting the required standards and the EU has confidence that they will. But time is now short. In any event, the EU will not compromise its standards. The existing safeguard clauses (as laid down in articles 53 and 54 of Regulation 178/2002 on the General Food Law) can be invoked if a food or feed constitute a risk to public health. In addition, the Accession Treaty provides in its Article 38 of the Accession Treaty for a complementary safeguard clause where negotiation commitments are not met and where this is causing an imminent risk for the functioning of the Internal Market. It can be invoked during a period of up to three years after accession, but the measures may be applied beyond that period as long as the relevant commitments have not been fulfilled. The Commission may act either upon the request of a Member State or on its own initiative. The safeguard clause can also be invoked even before accession on the basis of monitoring findings. It would then enter into force as of the first day of accession.
The Accession Treaty can be downloaded from the following website:
Agreed transitional periods per country, listing number of establishments per sector
Poland: 332 meat establishments (until December 2007), 113 milk establishments (until December 2006), 40 fish establishments (3 years);
Czech Republic: 44 meat establishments, 1 egg establishment, 7 fish establishments (until December 2006);
Hungary: 44 red meat establishments (until December 2006);
Latvia: 29 fish processing establishments (until January 2005), 77 meat establishments (until January 2006), 11 milk processing establishments (until January 2005);
Lithuania: 14 meat establishments, 5 fish establishments and 1 milk establishment (until January 2007);
Slovakia: 1 meat and 1 fish establishment (December 2006).
(1) Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia
(2) Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia