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Brussels, 25 October 2011
Questions and Answers on the role and achievements of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed
What is RASFF?
Launched in 1979, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is primarily a tool for exchange of information between competent authorities on consignments of food and feed in cases where a risk to human health has been identified and measures have been taken, such as withholding, recalling, seizure or rejection of the products concerned. This quick exchange of information allows all Member States to verify immediately whether they are also affected by the problem. Whenever the product is already on the market and should not be consumed, the Member States' authorities are then in a position to take all urgent measures, including giving direct information to the public, if necessary.
Why do we need RASFF?
The rapid alert system is a concrete and visible result of European integration. The quick exchange of information about food- and feed-related risks ensures coherent and simultaneous actions by all Member States. This is a major contribution to consumer safety.
The publication of notifications through the RASFF portal database makes consumers aware that the EU is active in this domain. Consumers can have access to an online database and find information relating to RASFF notifications after their transmission in the RASFF network.
How does it work in practice?
It is of outmost importance that the problem is notified. Through a specific template, Member States provide all relevant and useful information such as identification of the product, hazards found, measures taken and traceability information of the product. Once the information is received through the system, other Member States can check whether they are concerned. If the product is on their market they will be able to trace it using the information they find in the notification. They will report back to the RASFF on what they have found and what measures they have taken. In case of products produced in the EU, the Member State of origin will also report to RASFF the outcome of its investigations about the origin and distribution of the product and the cause of the problem identified. This allows other Member States to take rapid action if required.
What are the criteria for notification to the RASFF?
The criteria for notification to the RASFF are set in article 50 of Regulation (EC) N° 178/20021.
Whenever a member of the network has any kind of information relating to the existence of a serious, direct or indirect risk to human health deriving from food or feed, this information is immediately notified to the Commission through the RASFF. The Commission immediately transmits this information to the members of the network.
Article 50.3 of the Regulation outlines further criteria on when a RASFF notification is required.
Without prejudice to other Community legislation, the Member States shall immediately notify the Commission under the rapid alert system of:
Who are the members of the RASFF system?
The RASFF network involves the EU Member States, the EEA countries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland), the EFTA Secretariat coordinating the input from the EEA countries, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission as the manager of the system. Since 1 January 2009, Switzerland is a part member of the system. Its participation extends to border rejections of products of animal origin and it is governed by an agreement eliminating the border controls between the EU and Switzerland for these products.
Which other countries may join in the coming years?
Only candidate countries upon accession. No other third country memberships are foreseen at the moment.
What are the main findings of the RASFF annual report 2010?
The total number of notifications (original notifications + follow-up notifications) transmitted has increased significantly. There was a moderate increase of original alert notifications and especially for border rejection notifications, largely because of rejections of consignments at EU borders, which are mainly attributed to the strengthening of border controls of food of non-animal origin on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 669/2009. In 2010, countries were sending follow-up notifications to problems signalled by other countries even more frequently. This continuing trend shows that the efficiency of RASFF in providing authorities rapidly with information they need to withdraw unsafe products from the market is increasing.
Does the increase in overall notifications signify that our food is less safe?
No. The most significant increase concerns so-called follow-up notifications. This means that RASFF is used more intensively to follow up on reported problems. As a consequence, these problems will be solved more rapidly and measures will be put in place to prevent them from happening again.
See also IP/11/1237
OJ L 60, 1.3.2002, p. 70–80