1. The 19th FAO Regional Conference for Europe reviewed document ERC/94/4 "New Food Consumption Patterns and Product Quality in Europe and Adaptation of Agricultural Production". This document and the recommendations of the 19th and 20th FAO Regional Conferences for Europe, which identified food safety and sound nutrition as priority areas and the importance of meeting quality and other requirements of export markets, have led to the current in-depth considerations related to control of food quality and safety in Europe. The document therefore focuses on the food quality and safety aspects and does not replicate the analysis undertaken in 1994 on the food consumption patterns in the Region.
2. Expectations of consumers and recent developments in international trade have resulted in an increased priority for the control of food quality and safety in Europe and elsewhere in the world. This has been catalysed by recent events associated with mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), Escherichia.coli 0157:H7 and other foodborne pathogens.
3. At the same time, the Marrakech Agreement, establishing the World Trade Organization and the Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods, has significance regarding better quality and safety with regard to the trade of food products. Specifically, the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), have resulted in new obligations and rights for Member Nations related to the safety and quality of food trade. Control of food quality and safety is particularly important for Europe as the Region is the largest importer of agricultural and food products and one of the largest exporters in the world.
4. All WTO members have the responsibility to establish appropriate measures of sanitary protection to assure the quality and safety of the food supplies traded internationally. To meet the requirements of the SPS and TBT Agreements, it is necessary to adopt appropriate food quality, safety and consumer protection legislation and establish the infrastructure and technical capacities necessary to assure compliance with the legislation.
5. The Commission of the EU has the responsibility to propose legislation and directives on food quality, safety and consumer protection which, once approved, should be applied in all EU Member States. In 1998, the improvement of health and living quality of the citizens, in particular in relation to food safety, is one of five priorities of the Commission's work programme. The programme focuses on higher protection standards for placing food products on the market; the strict application of the rules on labelling; and the control and inspection of the entire food chain.
6. Transposition of EU legislation and directives into national legislation in all Member States is proceeding steadily. Homogeneous enforcement of EU legislation by Members remains a high priority. While responsibility for implementation of EU food legislation clearly lies with Member States, the Commission has an important task of monitoring how Members undertake these responsibilities, including auditing of national food inspection services.
7. A series of organizational changes are being completed in the Commission to reinforce the protection of consumer health with special emphasis on food safety. The Commission is strengthening its systems for obtaining and using scientific advice, and for operating its food, veterinary and phytosanitary control and inspection services.
8. This will include proposing and monitoring new legislation to protect the consumer in the internal market; reinforcing market transparency; providing consumer information and education; developing a system of consultation between the Commission and the organizations representing consumers; and ensuring that the interests of consumers are given due consideration. It also includes evaluation and assessment of possible risks to consumer health and carrying out inspections within and outside the EU countries to ensure that in the food chain the rules on hygiene and food safety are respected.
9. The increased rigour of the EU requirements and food inspection systems will present challenges to countries wishing accession to the EU and to those countries wishing to export food to the EU.
10. Domestic food supplies and trading with all countries is greatly facilitated where standards and legislation are harmonised with international requirements and effective food control systems are in place. The WTO SPS and TBT Agreements have developed the ground rules for establishing food safety and quality measures and reference to the Codex Alimentarius standards, guidelines and recommendations as the benchmark for food safety and quality.
11. In a number of CEE and CIS countries there is a need to revise and update food legislation to provide the appropriate legal framework and requirements for the control of food quality and safety in line with the obligations they have subscribed to by signing these agreements. Food legislation should also clearly define the responsibilities of the food industry and the responsibilities and authorities of the appropriate government agencies.
12. Some CEE and CIS countries face particular challenges to harmonise their food laws with international food quality and safety standards. Food control administration is often fragmented, resulting in gaps or duplication of controls and the technical capacities to assure adherence to the requirements are limited.
13. FAO is assisting Member Nations in this subregion, at their request, by providing technical inputs and advice on food control legislation, food control administration and management, and systems for food inspection and analysis. In 1996/97, FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service was involved in eight such projects associated with strengthening various aspects of food quality and safety in CEE and CIS countries. In addition, ten seminars or workshops were held in the areas of the WTO SPS Agreement, food safety and quality control systems and the Codex Alimentarius. There is, however, still much work to be done in harmonising food laws and regulations with international requirements and strengthening food control administrative and technical capacities to assure adherence to the legislation in many of these countries.
14. There is also significant potential for collaboration between the FAO technical assistance related to food quality and safety and other international technical assistance programmes including those provided under the EC technical assistance programmes.
15. There are a number of other countries of the FAO European Region that are not members of the country groupings discussed in para. 10 to 14 above. Some of these countries or principalities are members of FAO (Cyprus, Iceland, Israel, Malta, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) and others are not (Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and the Russian Federation). The systems in place to control food quality and safety in these countries differ on the basis of geographic location, current level of development and of domestic and international trade. In some instances, these countries provide technical assistance on food quality and safety to others. In other instances, there is a need for strengthening food control systems. In all cases these countries must also meet domestic food quality, safety and consumer protection obligations, and conform to Codex standards and the requirements of the WTO SPS and TBT Agreements in promoting food exports to other countries.
16. One indicator of the current problems regarding the lack of harmonisation in the quality and safety standards of food imported by the USA is the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) data on import detentions. A review of the statistical data from the USFDA on the numbers and reasons for detentions and rejections of food imports provides a useful insight into the food control problems in countries, whether for domestic food supplies or for exports. This data identifies areas where quality and safety controls may need to be strengthened. The data provided below is based on an analysis of the information available on the Internet Home Page of the USFDA for the period of July - December 1996.
Fig. 1. indicates that globally there were 5 701 consignments detained by the USFDA during this period.
17. Filth, microbiological contamination, pesticide residues and food labelling were the most frequent reasons for import detentions and rejections by the USFDA during this period.
Fig. 2. indicates that out of the total, there were 620 detentions or rejections by the USFDA of food products originating from Europe
18. Low acid canned foods not meeting USFDA regulatory requirements, food labelling, microbiological and filth contamination, were the leading reasons for import detentions and rejections from Europe.
19. Similar data from the EU was not identified (if it is available).
20. There are immediate economic losses associated with import detentions and rejections and, in addition, there may be lower prices offered for future shipments. If problems persist, these can result in trade embargoes being placed against certain categories of food products from specific countries, and prices for future shipments will often be lower.
21. If food import/export inspection systems are deficient, this can result in consumers being exposed to unsafe or poor quality foods. Exporting countries can prevent import detention and rejections by adopting international quality and safety standards and by strengthening their food control and inspection systems.
22. There are several ongoing trade disputes and issues affecting countries exporting food to the EU regarding food quality and safety matters. These include, among other, the EU ban on meat from hormonte-treated animals, the use of biotechnology in food production and assessment of the equivalency of food inspection systems. Bilateral discussions between the EU and exporting countries are underway, along with appeals to the WTO for rulings under the SPS and TBT Agreements. Some of these appeals are based on contentions that the EU bans and other requirements are not based on scientific evidence, and are not based on current Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations and other science based advice from FAO and WHO.
23. There are a number of important commitments that governments have made to assuring food quality and safety. At the national level, improved government and food industry systems have been implemented to assure better domestic food supplies. At the international level, commitments have been made through membership in the Codex Alimentarius Commission, and in applying recommendations for action through the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), the World Food Summit and the Uruguay Round SPS and TBT Agreements.
24. In December 1992, the ICN, a jointly sponsored Conference of FAO and WHO held in Rome, affirmed that food quality and safety was essential to improve the overall nutritional status of people. Further, the ICN Plan of Action stresses that governments should take the necessary measures to protect the health and safety of the consumer by assuring adequate supplies of wholesome, high quality and safe food.
25. The November 1996 World Food Summit held in FAO, Rome, was attended at the level of heads of state and government and high ranking delegations from 186 countries. The first sentence of the Rome Declaration on World Food Security reaffirms "the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger". The World Food Summit Plan of Action further emphasises that all people should have at all times "physical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". It points out that concerted action at all levels is required and emphasises improved agriculture and food trade as key means to meeting these goals.
26. The CAC is entrusted with making proposals relevant to the implementation of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The primary objectives of the CAC are protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade by elaboration of international standards, codes of practice, residue limits, recommendations and guidelines for foods. Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations have been used for many years by governments as a basis for their national legislation. Since 1994, they have assumed a new status in the international trade of food as a result of their recognition by the WTO SPS and TBT Agreements.
27. The membership of the CAC continues to grow: it now stands at 162 Member Countries including 38 FAO Member Nations from Europe. It is expected that Codex will continue to attract new members in view of its central role in facilitating international trade in food products, including processed food.
28. The CAC has deep roots in Europe, deriving in part from the early work of the Codex Alimentarius Europeaus and pioneering work done in this area in Austria around a century ago. The first Codex Regional Coordinating Committee ever formed was that for Europe. European countries have generously provided host government arrangements for Codex Committees since the establishment of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.
29. In the context of the SPS and TBT Agreements, it has become increasingly important for all countries to participate fully in the international standard setting process of Codex. This requires effective national Codex Committees that include representatives from all relevant government agencies, consumer groups and the food industry. A national Codex Committee has the responsibility to coordinate the inputs of these groups and prepare national positions on matters of interest to the country. It also has the responsibility for the dissemination of the standards, guidelines and recommendations adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission for consideration by the appropriate national bodies. FAO has provided, and is continuing to provide technical assistance to CEE and CIS countries in this regard. A workshop for these countries will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, 23-26 June 1998, on the Administration of National Codex Committees.
30. In April 1994 the Final Act of the Uruguay Round was signed, establishing the World Trade Organization. The Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods include thirteen individual agreements, two of which have particular relevance to FAO's technical activities related to food quality and safety. These are the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). These Agreements entered into force on 1 January 1995.
31. The SPS Agreement recognises the right of members to take sanitary and phytosanitary measures necessary for the protection of human, animal and plant life. However, they also have the obligation to ensure that SPS measures are based on scientific principles; are not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence; do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between nations; are not applied in a manner that would constitute a disguised restriction on trade; are not more restrictive to trade than is necessary to provide the chosen appropriate level of protection; and are established in a "transparent" manner.
32. Members are directed to harmonise their sanitary and phytosanitary measures on as wide a basis as possible and to base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Any Member Nation of WTO is presumed to comply with its obligations under the SPS text when its national measures conform to the standards established by the relevant international standard setting organizations. For food safety, the standards, guidelines and recommendations adopted by the CAC are the reference for the evaluation of national sanitary measures under the SPS text. Members may be requested to submit scientific justification when their national sanitary regulations are stricter than Codex standards.
33. Members are to ensure that their SPS measures are based on an assessment, as appropriate to the circumstances, of the risk to human, animal or plant life or health, taking into account risk assessment techniques developed by the relevant international organizations. In the assessment of risks, members are to take into account the available scientific evidence, relevant processes and production methods, relevant sampling and testing methods and the prevalence of specific diseases or pests.
34. The SPS Agreement also calls on members to play a full part, within the limit of their resources, in the relevant international organizations and their subsidiary bodies including the CAC. Members have also agreed to provide technical assistance to other members, especially developing country members, either bilaterally or through the appropriate international organizations. FAO continues to provide technical assistance and advice to assist countries in meeting their obligations under the Agreements, especially related to the development and harmonisation of food legislation and the development of effective food control infrastructures and systems.
35. The TBT Agreement applies to all aspects of food standards not covered by the SPS Agreement. TBT measures must be shown to have a legitimate purpose, be proportional to the desired purpose and should be based on international standards. The TBT Agreement covers a large number of measures designed to protect consumers against economic fraud and deception. In the framework of the Codex, provisions concerning quality and composition requirements, labelling, nutrition and methods of analysis, are relevant to the TBT Agreement.
36. FAO promotes the use of effective quality control measures in all aspects of food production, harvesting, storage, processing and marketing to assure adherence to the Codex standards, recommendations and guidelines. These are based on the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene and the Application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) System, as appropriate. EC requirements on food hygiene and food labelling are closely related to the corresponding Codex texts. There are close linkages between the Codex programme and FAO's Regular and Field Programmes. These are exemplified by the work done by FAO in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to support the introduction and application of Codex standards, recommendations and guidelines. FAO is the leading source of technical cooperation and assistance to Member Nations in these areas.
37. The type of technical cooperation promoted varies according to the needs of countries and the availability of resources. Short seminars and workshops, funded from FAO's Regular Programme and often supported by extrabudgetary contributions, have been used to address specific technical issues and to inform government officials, industry and consumers about the relevance of Codex and its relationship to the WTO SPS and TBT Agreements. Longer-term development projects such as revision of national legislation, strengthening food control administration and technical capacities and the up-grading of physical facilities, are funded through FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme or by external donors.
38. FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service has a strong comparative advantage in providing technical assistance and advice to developing countries and countries with economies in transition as a result of its responsibility for the Secretariats of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives; its close relationship with the WTO's Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade; and the strong technical competence and experience of the professional staff. FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service also benefits from the expertise of other technical divisions in FAO in providing assistance and advice that is based on scientific evidence and that is current and appropriate to the international environment.
39. FAO will continue to do its part in providing Member Nations and Codex with appropriate recommendations which are based on good science and appropriate risk analysis. In order to establish the scientific basis of its decisions, the Codex Alimentarius Commission relies on the independent advice provided by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, Contaminants and Veterinary Drug Residues (JECFA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), which review and assess the safety and technological issues related to food additives, veterinary drugs and pesticide residues in animal or plant products. Both Committees apply risk analysis techniques in their deliberations, decisions and recommendations.
40. The recommendations of JECFA, JMPR and ad hoc FAO technical or expert consultations provide valuable advice and guidance to FAO and WHO Member Nations as well as establishing a large part of the scientific basis for the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. This process is also very important in the context of the SPS Agreement as sanitary and phytosanitary measures should be based on an assessment, as appropriate to the circumstances, of the risks to human, animal or plant life or health, taking into account risk assessment techniques developed by the relevant international organizations
41. In view of the need for additional advice on the application of risk analysis, a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Standards Issues was held in March of 1995. This Consultation identified risk analysis as consisting of three components: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. In follow-up to the Risk Analysis Consultation, a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation on Risk Management and Food Safety was held in January 1997 and a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation on Risk Communication was held 2-6 February 1998.
42. The 22nd Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission held 23-28 June 1997, adopted "Definitions for Risk Analysis Terms Related to Food Safety" and "Statements of Principle Relating to the Role of Food Safety Risk Assessment". The Commission also approved an "Action Plan for the Codex-Wide Application of Risk Analysis Principles and Guidelines". The Commission also adopted "Principles for the Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria for Foods". Recognising the uncertainties and difficulties associated with microbiological risk assessment, the Commission also requested FAO/WHO to convene an international expert advisory body similar to JECFA and JMPR on the microbiological aspects of food safety to address in particular microbiological risk assessments. FAO and WHO are presently examining possible mechanisms to support risk assessment in this area.
43. There are a number of important factors driving the process of strengthening food quality and safety measures in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Consumer protection and the facilitating of international trade in food are two of these important factors.
44. The SPS and TBT Agreements have resulted in new obligations and rights for Member Nations. These Agreements have established the ground rules for establishing and applying food quality and safety measures and reference to the Codex Alimentarius standards, guidelines and recommendations as the benchmark in this area.
45. Growing interdependence among the world's food markets presents increased opportunities for food trade. However, while the Uruguay Round Agreements result in reduced tariffs, quotas and other readily identifiable barriers to trade, the regulatory changes taking place in many parts of the world have the potential to result in new technical barriers to trade. The adoption of a higher level of sanitary protection than would be achieved by use of the relevant Codex standards is allowed for in the SPS Agreement, provided certain conditions (essentially scientific justification) are met. However, the development of sanitary requirements that differ from the Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations, could have a negative impact on trade. It is therefore important that efforts to harmonise sanitary requirements on the basis of international standards be reinforced and that efforts to achieve consensus in the adoption of international standards be pursued.
46. The CAC will ensure that Codex decisions continue to be based on scientific evidence. In this regard, FAO shall continue to provide strong support to the expert scientific committees, ad hoc scientific and technical consultations and other mechanisms which provide the scientific recommendations and advice crucial for appropriate decision-making by Codex.
47. Consumer protection and world trade will be greatly enhanced where standards and legislation are harmonised based on Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations and where effective food control systems are in place. There is however much work to be done, particularly in CEE countries and the CIS, in harmonising food legislation with international requirements and strengthening food control administrative and technical capacities to ensure adherence to the legislation.
48. The SPS and TBT Agreements advise members to play a full part, within the limits of their resources, in the relevant international organizations and their subsidiary bodies, in particular the CAC and provide that members encourage and facilitate the active participation of developing country members in the relevant international organizations.
49. The SPS and TBT Agreements also direct that members facilitate the provision of technical assistance to other members, either bilaterally or through the appropriate international organizations. FAO continues to be an important source of such assistance and has a strong comparative advantage in the area of food quality and safety measures. Potentials for increased cooperation and collaboration exist with other international and national technical assistance programmes. The capacity for FAO technical assistance depends on the continued support and priority given to this area by Member Nations.
50. All countries should pursue their efforts to harmonise sanitary requirements with international standards and continue to support the development of Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations based on scientific evidence. Efforts to achieve consensus in the adoption of international standards should be pursued.
51. Member Nations should develop and/or strengthen the capacity of National Codex Committees to enable them to participate fully in the Codex standard-setting process.
52. Countries of the European Region should capitalise on potential for increased cooperation and collaboration with other international and national technical assistance programmes related to food quality and safety.
53. FAO should continue to play a primary role in promoting technical cooperation and assistance, particularly in CEE countries and the CIS, to harmonise food legislation with international requirements and to strengthen food control administrative and technical capacities to ensure compliance.
54. FAO, to the extent of its resources, should provide technical assistance and advice at the request of Member Governments in the application of risk analysis in the establishment of sanitary measures related to food quality and safety to ensure that sanitary measures are consistent with the obligations of the SPS Agreement.
55. FAO, as far as resources are available, should continue to support and strengthen mechanisms to provide Member Nations with international science-based standards, guidelines and recommendations. In convening expert panels to provide science-based recommendations to FAO and Member Nations, FAO should contact all interested parties to assure the widest possible representation of properly qualified experts so that recommendations on various topics take into account all relevant scientific facts and data.