Farm-to-Fork Food Safety

The EU is currently putting in place a comprehensive legislative framework in order to maintain safety along the whole food chain, a concept known as "farm to fork". This initiative comes in response to several crises linked to products of animal origin which have threatened public safety, such as the BSE outbreak in the 1990s or, more recently, dioxin contamination in pork. It is in this context that the Commission proposed a revision of the health rules concerning animal by-products (ABPs) not intended for human consumption in June 2008. The proposal has two essential objectives: to clarify and update existing legislation and to introduce more risk-proportionate rules.

Health rules concerning animal by-products not intended for human consumption were first laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002. ABPs arise mainly during the slaughter of animals for human consumption, and of course in the disposal of dead animals and in disease control measures. ABPs pose a potential risk to animal and public health and the environment. Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002 consolidated and recast the various existing rules covering ABPs, and established strict conditions throughout the food and feed production and distribution chain. The Regulation also classifies animal by-products into three categories based on their potential risk, and sets out how each category must or may be disposed of. It restricts the type of material that may be used for feeding animals only to material fit for human consumption. The Regulation also prohibits intra-species recycling (cannibalism) and the feeding of catering waste to livestock. In addition, it introduced stricter rules concerning the approval of premises handling ABPs.

In a report issued in 2005 reflecting the application of the Regulation by Member States, the Commission concluded that, while compliance had been generally satisfactory, Member States and economic operators had encountered severe challenges in ensuring compliance of certain provisions. Moreover, some requirements were disproportionate when it comes to very low risk products (e.g. processed ingredients used in cosmetics), while there was a need to insert new products under the different risk categories. In addition, areas of legal uncertainty or possible duplication with other legislation were identified. Further to the report, the Commission launched a consultation with key stakeholders, which confirmed that, whereas the basic framework concerning ABPs should be maintained, the scope of the legislation should be adjusted and it should be made more consistent with other Community provisions. In particular, a more risk-based approach for the categorisation of ABP, as well as controls, should be introduced.

Building on the results of the consultation, this new proposed Regulation aims to amend Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002 in order to address some of the shortcomings identified as regards clarity and rules that are disproportionate compared to the risks. For example the proposal introduces an end point in the life-cycle of ABPs, after which ABPs cease to be covered by the requirements of the Regulation. This point will be fixed depending on the nature of the ABP, its intended end-use or the characteristics of its treatment process. To avoid legal uncertainty concerning the scope of the rules on ABPs from wild game, parallel provisions to this legislation on food hygiene will be introduced.

Operators handling high-level risk ABPs would be given a special authorisation by the competent authority. Likewise, such approvals would not be necessary for plants and establishments, which process or handle safe materials. Operators and competent authorities would remain responsible for ensuring that ABPs are only being sent to outlets authorised by the law. Duplication between requirements will be avoided insofar as the objectives protected by one legislative framework can be considered to be covered sufficiently by another. New products with proven limited risks shall be introduced into the classification of ABP. At the same time, the precautionary principle should be maintained.

The primary responsibility of operators to ensure that the requirements of the Regulation will be met would be reinforced. This should allow the competent authorities to focus on verifying compliance of operators. At the same time, Member States should provide the necessary infrastructure for a collection and disposal system to ensure the safe disposal of animal by-products which are or may not be used. Operators will also have an increased responsibility for the placing on the market of safe products. Derogations regarding the exceptional burial and burning on site in cases of disease outbreaks would be clarified and extended to situations in which recovery operations become practically very difficult, such as during natural disasters. The Commission is confident that this amended proposal on ABPs will help put in place a legislative framework ensuring “farm to fork” food safety.