EC to extend food safety inspection charges

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European commission European union

Proposed changes to food safety inspection rules are scheduled to take effect in 2016
Proposed changes to food safety inspection rules are scheduled to take effect in 2016
Food processors could face soaring costs for official inspections as a consequence of the European Commission’s (EC’s) attempt to standardise ‘official controls’ governing food safety regulation across the EU.

The fear is similar cost recovery measures for inspections by vets in abattoirs, primary meat cutting plants and in milk production – which is mandatory across the EU – could apply to all food operations.

Of four options, which progressively extend the scope of companies to which the rules apply, full cost recovery from all registered food and feed businesses is the proposal the EC is recommending.

Michael Scannell, director within the food and veterinary office of the Health and Consumers Directorate-General (DG Sanco), said the idea was to streamline 70 pieces of food supply chain legislation down to five. He revealed this at a briefing to Food Manufacture​ yesterday (June 19).

However, he admitted a primary reason for the changes was to free up sufficient funds for official inspections and reduce dependency on public finances.

That, he said, was important when Member States’ (MS’) economies were under pressure and some competent authorities (CAs) were reducing inspection frequencies because of insufficient resources, jeopardising consumer food safety.

“Official controls can only be effective if they are properly funded,”​ said Scannell. “The existing fees and costs are uniquely focused at  an EU level on slaughter houses and meat processing plants and we are of the view in the Commission that is an important fault line in the overall effectiveness of control systems and has created certain anomalies.

Cross subsidising

“One of which is the meat industry, which considers itself discriminated against,​ [asking] ‘why are we subjected to these high charges and other sectors of the food industry which are of equal or even greater risk are exempt? And because we are subject to fees we are effectively cross-subsidising these others.’”

Scannell said: “This unique reliance on the meat sector undermines the resources for controls in general because MS are strapped for cash and in practice they are having to make greater and greater cut-backs. We are presented with a situation where the overall effectiveness of controls is undermined by a lack of resources.”

He said the new legislation would enable companies to conduct their business and trade more easily, since the same rules would apply across the EU.

Different charging mechanisms apply currently for official inspections by the CAs – including the UK Food Standards Agency – in the 27 MSs.

Greater transparency

Scannell also argued that overcharging for inspections would be avoided by the greater transparency of full cost recovery across the EU. That would enable operators to argue they could be equally well inspected but more cheaply by private certification bodies, he added.

He said the changes were scheduled to take effect in 2016, although that would depend on the European Parliament and Council approving them.

The new legislation, which the EC approved on May 5, covers food safety, animal health, plant health and animal welfare, under the umbrella of a “common enforcement system”.

In documentation supporting the proposals, the EC states: “Recent food scandals have shown once more the need for more effective action on the part of enforcement authorities to protect consumers and honest operators alike from the risk (also in economic terms) which may arise from breaches of the rules along the chain.”

Additional costs

In justification of extending full cost recovery across the sector, the EC states: “The limited additional costs for operators are compensated by more efficient controls, mechanisms to reward compliance, and increased accountability of control services.”

The new rules would follow a more ‘risk-based’ approach, enabling CAs to focus on more relevant issues.

It is also proposed that microenterprises should be exempted from the fees, but not the controls, to safeguard their competitiveness. However, Scannell said that during consultations this had proved to be one of the most contentious proposals.

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