In this edition of the Weekly Compliance Digest, we cover new EU rules that strengthen the enforcement of health and safety standards across the agri-food chain.
EU Official Controls Regulation
What is it?
Last week, the European Parliament adopted the new Official Controls Regulation that aims to enhance and reinforce the EU system as an international reference for integrated rules covering the entire agri-food chain.
The objectives for the harmonized EU rules are to prevent, eliminate or reduce the level of risk to humans, animals and plants, along the agri-food chain. Official controls, undertaken by competent authorities in each Member State, will serve to check whether the rules are correctly implemented.
The new rules provide a single framework for all official controls along the agri-food chain. Official controls are checks performed by EU countries to verify that businesses comply with agri-food chain rules. These rules cover the safety and quality of food and feed, plant health, animal health and welfare. They also apply to agri-food chain products entering the EU from other countries.
Who is affected?
The new rules will affect food & beverage entities in the EU and those in non-EU countries that export into the EU. A common set of rules will apply to border controls carried out on animals, products of animal origin, plants and other products and goods which pose a risk to health, safety, animal welfare or in certain cases the environment, and which need to be channeled through Border Control Posts (BCPs).
In addition, since EU food law also applies to food sold on the Internet, e-commerce is also part of official controls and covered by the new rules.
What are the provisions?
- Scope of regulations extended to plant health and animal by-product rules.
- More specific rules for several areas already covered, e.g. animal health and animal welfare.
- European Commission is allowed to adjust control requirements to the specific enforcement needs of each sector. For example, minimum control frequencies are established where the risks warrant it.
- Operators at all stages of production, processing and distribution that handle animals, plants, food, feed, goods, substances, materials or equipment are governed by the new rules. Controls will be performed without prior notice, unless necessary.
- Frequency of controls will be linked to risks that a product or process presents regarding fraud, health, safety, animal welfare or in certain cases the environment. Other factors included in the assessment of the risk are, for example, the operator’s past record of compliance or the likelihood that consumers are misled about the properties, quality, composition or country of provenance of the food.
- Member States to carry out regular, unannounced risk-based official controls to detect food fraud or deceptive practices. This includes checking compliance against marketing standards for agricultural products.
- Official controls on animal welfare rules, e.g. on transport, slaughter and farming.
Concretely, the new rules mean that official food inspections, from farm to fork, will be tightened up in the EU.
What is next?
The new Official Controls Regulation will enter into force 20 days after its publication. The rules will be gradually phased in to give EU countries and industry the time to adapt.
On December 14, 2019, the majority of the rules will become applicable, and will include, for example, the scope, definitions, rules for competent authorities, financing of official controls, administrative assistance, sampling and analysis (with some exceptions for plant health), and enforcement actions of the competent authorities.
Within 6 years of the entry into force of the regulation, certain rules for import controls, residues of substances in food and feed, and animal welfare will become applicable.
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