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Brussels, 18 November 2011
Better Training for Safer Food: Commission marks fifth anniversary
What is Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF)?
BTSF is an initiative of the European Commission. The Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC) is responsible for its implementation. BTSF trains national-level control staff of EU Member States and third countries on food and feed law, animal health and welfare rules and plant health rules.
Why was it launched?
It was launched partly due to the emergence of food safety as an important concern among citizens following various food scares, such as the BSE and dioxins crises. In addition, following an overhaul of EU food law to support development of the Internal Market, Member State rules in the areas covered by BTSF were almost entirely based on EU law. This body of law had to be applied effectively. The Commission saw training of national-level control staff as essential for this. Regulation 882/2004 , adopted in April 2004, empowered the Commission to provide such training, paving the way for the launch of BTSF.
What are the benefits of the training?
It increases officials' awareness of relevant EU legislation and gives them a better understanding of the checks they need to carry out. This should make controls more harmonised and efficient. Effective food safety and veterinary are vital to protect public, animal and plant health. Harmonisation in this area allows businesses across the EU and beyond to compete on a level playing field and benefit from increased trade in safe food.
What about third countries?
By providing training for third and particularly developing country participants, BTSF helps to make them more aware of EU and international food standards. Complying with such standards helps their products to gain access to the EU market, thus contributing to economic development. It also drives up safety standards on the domestic market while providing EU consumers with a wider range of safe food products.
How long has BTSF been providing training?
The training began in 2006 and 2011 marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of BTSF. During the period 2006-2011, about 660 events of between three and 15 days' duration have been held. They have been attended by more than 29 000 participants from around 180 countries. The overall budget has been approximately €68 million.
How is BTSF structured?
BTSF comprises training programmes on subjects related to its areas of focus. Of these, some are EU-based and aimed mainly at European participants. Others take place in third countries and are intended specifically for people from the region in which they are held. A certain number of places on some EU-based courses are also open to participants from developing countries. The range of programmes has expanded from 7 in 2006 to around 25 in 2011.
Isn't this kind of training provided by national authorities?
Yes, but BTSF aims to complement national training by promoting a common EU-level understanding. It also aims to spread knowledge as widely as possible amongst the target audience. For this reason, participation at BTSF events is intended primarily for people who are in a position to pass on knowledge acquired from the training to their colleagues. Moreover, all workshops have an international selection of participants and tutors to increase knowledge exchange. This couldn't be replicated at national level.
How are subjects identified for training programmes?
Prior to the launch of concrete training in 2006, a training sector was set up within the Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO). This sector carries out extensive consultation within DG SANCO and with other Commission services within the Inter-service Steering Group on BTSF. It also meets regularly and coordinates with Member States, candidate and European Free Trade Association countries through the network of national contact points designated to channel information on BTSF between the Commission, EAHC and the external contractors responsible for the organisation of training programmes, on the one hand and national authorities, on the other. Further sources used to ascertain training needs include notifications received by the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed and outcomes of inspections by the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office.
Who organises BTSF?
The European Commission was responsible for all aspects related to the organisation of BTSF as a whole from the launch of the initiative. During 2009-10, financial and administrative tasks were transferred to EAHC with the Commission keeping its guiding policy role, including the identification of training subjects. This marked the end of the pilot phase of BTSF. The individual programmes are implemented by external contractors designated following periodic public procurement processes. Such processes are launched on the basis of the training needs identified by the Commission.
Have any other BTSF activities been organised?
The BTSF Africa programme, managed jointly by the European and African Union Commissions has run during 2009-11. Around 100 events, for about 4 000 participants, have been organised across seven activities for a budget of €10 million. BTSF Africa aims to strengthen the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) capacity of national, regional and pan-African authorities in areas such as control, surveillance, legislation, management and inspection. This will help African countries to produce agro-food products compatible with international standards and contribute to reducing food-borne disease. A further aim is to support food security through technical and policy advice. The Commission is now exploring possibilities to launch similar programmes in other regions of the world.
How is the effectiveness of the training evaluated?
Participants complete evaluation forms following each training event. In addition, an intermediate assessment of the first two years of BTSF was carried out in 2008. It helped to assess the impact of the training on participants' work, to learn more about the implementation of training and its strengths and weaknesses and to obtain recommendations for the future.
What are the main challenges for the future?
The 2008 assessment identified a number of challenges to which BTSF must respond in the long term. Foremost amongst these were the need to provide a level of training capable of responding to a high and increasing demand, to identify training priorities and target audiences more clearly, to improve training quality and to increase dissemination.
What is the Commission doing to ensure continued success in the short-medium term?
In response to the assessment's findings, the Commission adopted in November 2010 a Staff Working Document , which proposes actions to enable BTSF to successfully overcome these challenges. In the short-medium term (i.e. by the end of 2013) these include: development of an e-learning tool for basic-level training, studies to accurately estimate the demand for BTSF training and to identify good training practices and increasing training output through closer cooperation of EC services with all stakeholders.
And in the longer term?
In the longer term, further actions identified in the Document include establishment of a summer school for tutors, creating a post-graduate training centre for previous participants along with an alumni network and setting up of exchange programmes for officials between national authorities.
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