Video: Proposed food controls could level EU playing field, says Scannell

Less-than-optimum controls have left the entire European food industry vulnerable, director of the Food and Veterinary Office at the European Commission Michael Scannell told MeatInfo.co.uk.

In an interview about a proposed package of measures aimed at strengthening the enforcement of health and safety standards in the EU’s agri-food chain, Scannell said added security and a level playing field could be the end result, if the package is accepted.

“The package of measures provides a modernised and simplified, more risked-based approach to the protection of health and more efficient control tools to ensure the effective application of the rules guiding the operation of the food chain,” he said.

If the proposals – announced in May by Commissioner Borg in response to the horsemeat scandal and scheduled to take effect in 2016 – are passed, Scannell said that health and safety inspection charges would apply to the whole food industry, rather than the meat industry. It was explained that if the proposals were adopted, it would free up money from local authorities as costs would be covered by those incurring them. He also admitted that member states were letting some standards slip as a result of under-funding.

He explained that proposals had been made to broaden how charges were imposed, including on all business operators with the exception of micro-enterprises. “Under the existing legislation, essentially only slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are effectively subject to harmonising fees across the EU.” Scannell suggested that such harmonisation could counteract claims made by the meat industry that it is discriminated against, as it is subjected to many charges.

“Fees are extensively applied in the UK and not just within the meat industry, but more generally,” he said. Scannell added that full cost recovery was implemented in some cases in the UK and said the preferred route would be full cost recovery in the future. “The UK is already committed and orientated towards a cost recovery. So, for a large part of the UK establishment, this shouldn’t be news.”

But he said a system of full cost recovery would work best across the European Union and said controls could only be effective if they were properly funded. “We have to be ambitious that the controls are operating in all member states, because that undermines the whole credibility of the system.

“Hopefully everybody will see that controls should be fully funded from the food industry,” in a bid to make it as safe as possible, he said, adding: “One thing you can guarantee is that you will never have a system where everything is safe.

“There will be a better food safety system in the European Union. We are working on the basis of huge experience in this area.”

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