Wetenschap - 7 november 2002

Food safety in the extended EU

Food safety in the extended EU

The European Union will soon have ten new members. Supporters of the EU believe this will be good for the stability of the region. Opponents have their reservations, for example in terms of food safety: supposedly the new members do not have their affairs in order. Is the food of the new states safe enough for the EU?

EU 2002 Regular Report on Bulgaria's progress towards accession, p.66

"As regards food safety, further progress has been made in the adoption of implementing legislation. On food safety standards, progress was made since the last Regular Report. However, most facilities and equipment used by the food processing industry are obsolete and fail to meet the requirements for safety and hygiene of the national legislation." (Bulgaria's application is on hold at the moment.)

Professor Ruud Huirne of the Farm Management Group, Wageningen University:

"The imminent accession of the new member states has started great changes in these countries. They are keen to join the EU, and are doing their best to meet the requirements. But their whole food safety systems are not yet up to standard. So at the moment they are not completely ready.

A more important question though is whether we are ready for the expansion. As far as I'm concerned we are not. Once the borders open, trucks will be able to drive in one go through the whole of Europe. And if something has gone wrong in the chain somewhere, there are no special internal controls to warn us.

What we really need to do is analyze the dangers, so we can see where things can go wrong, and how big the risk is. Then we would know where the greatest dangers lie, which is a technical matter. I hope that the people at Rikilt [Institute for Food Safety] and RIVM [National Institute of Public Health and the Environment] know more about these things."

EU 2002 Regular report on Cyprus' progress towards accession, p.50

"As regards food safety, considerable efforts are still necessary to speed up the transposition and implementation process."

Dr Frank van Tongeren, LEI [Agricultural Economics Research Institute], recently interviewed in the Dutch newspaper Trouw:

"Of course there is an urge to evade food safety requirements. The EU's norms are strict and at the forefront internationally. But the food industry in Europe is sometimes even stricter, the supermarkets for example. They can no longer afford to supply bad quality food, and some of their standards are even higher than those set by governments. Nevertheless occasionally something slips through. You simply can't control everything that comes into the Netherlands. We have to accept a certain degree of risk."

EU 2002 Regular report on Czech Republic's progress towards accession, p. 72

"The Czech Agricultural and Food Inspectorate (CAFI) supervises the safety and quality of food, and its laboratories are accredited according to international standards. ... As regards BSE, the Czech Republic has introduced a comprehensive testing programme, which has progressively been aligned with the Community programme, and a proper rendering system has been ensured."

Professor Leo den Hartog, director of Research and Development at Nutreco, and Professor of Business Development in Animal Husbandry, special chair at Wageningen University:

"Speaking from my position at Nutreco I see few great threats. The raw materials trade is already very international. They come from everywhere, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, from 'good' and 'bad' countries. If you look at the Dutch animal feed industry, about eighty percent of the raw materials come in through Rotterdam. Dutch businesses are equipped to deal with this. Nutreco uses a 'traffic light' method for checking suppliers. Some are given the green light. We check them of course from time to time, but we know that their working methods are acceptable. Others get an orange light and we check them first. Of course there are also suppliers that are given the red light, but there are just as many of these in 'good' countries as in 'bad' countries."

Dr Kees de Gooijer, director of Rikilt, Institute of Food Safety:

"The Eastern European countries are not ready to join the EU, neither physically nor psychologically. Our staff are helping these countries to set up food safety monitoring systems. When the antibiotic chloramphenicol was found in the milk, the Eastern Europeans were perplexed. They didn't understand where it came from. As far as they knew it was forbidden. The idea that people sometimes break the rules didn't even occur to them. That's the mentality that came from living in a centralised economy, although it's changing quickly now.

Not that the Netherlands is in any position to point the finger at Eastern Europe. We are not ready for the EU either. Brussels has declared that the Tracking and Tracing system must be up and running by 2005. By then we have to be able to trace all food products back in the chain, but we don't have the system functioning yet. Oh well, there's still time."

Leo den Hartog once more:

"Every change brings with it opportunities and threats, and it's only human to think of the threats first. I regard the expansion primarily as an opportunity, not only for the economy but also for Wageningen. The new member countries are working hard to get their registration and identification systems up to scratch, with the help of other European countries. People at Wageningen UR are involved as well. The EU expansion is an opportunity for Wageningen to export its knowledge and expertise. You can compare the expansion to driving a car: you have to do it with your hands on the steering wheel, and not with your foot on the brake."

Willem Koert

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