Much has changed in European food (and feed) legislation since 2005. Almost all old legislation, especially the many vertical directives for products of animal origin, have been dropped and replaced by much less detailed requirements. The responsibility for safe food and drink products is now the responsibility of the producers thereof and the task of the government is to check whether this responsibility is properly taken up and fulfilled by the food companies.
The most important regulations currently in force at a glance:
- The Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 also called General Food Law or General Food Regulation.
- The Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002 on animal by-products not intended for human consumption.
- The Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs.
- The Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 on specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin.
- Regulation (EC) No 854/2004 specific rules for the organization of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption.
- The Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official controls to ensure compliance with feed and food law, animal health and animal welfare rules.
- The Regulation (EC) No. 2073/2005 on Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs.
These Regulations are all interrelated. It is therefore not unwise to record these connections in a diagram.
The special feature of these new Regulations is that food and feed are placed at the same level and there is therefore no longer any distinction. Nevertheless, we emphasize here the aspects for foodstuffs.
The first Regulation that entered into force on 1 January 2005 is Regulation (EC) No 178/2002. This regulation contains 65 articles, most of which are not really relevant for food operators. Many of the articles deal with the establishment of the European Food Safety Authority. We go through the most important articles from this Regulation.
Article 2 Definition of “foodstuff”. This goes very far, namely all substances and products, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, that are intended to be consumed by humans or can reasonably be expected to be consumed by humans.
This means that all processed raw materials are also designated as foodstuffs and must be treated as such. So citric acid produced in a chemical plant for the food industry is a food. This is further explained that any substance, including water, which is intentionally added to the food during manufacture, preparation or treatment is included in this term.
Article 3 contains further definitions that are important. For example, that of a food company. This is in fact a company that is active at any stage of the production, processing and distribution of foodstuffs. So the citric acid producer mentioned above is a food company and must meet all the requirements of a food company. Also, under point 8, a definition is given about “marketing”, ie the holding of food or feed with a view to sale. So not only selling, but also having it available with a view to sale is already sufficient to comply with the Regulation.
Article 7 is new in food law. It gives the government the opportunity to take measures in situations that could potentially have harmful consequences for public health before all scientific certainty is known about the hazard. The precautionary principle. Care is then required, because incorrect use of this principle can lead to substantial claims for damages.
Articles 11 and 12 deal with “import” and “export” respectively. Basically, imported or exported food must meet the same requirements as community-produced food and feed. There are a few exceptions to this for exports.
The most important piece for food business operators is Section 4 of this Regulation with Articles 14 to 20.
Article 14. This article states that unsafe foods may not be placed on the market. But what is unsafe now? An answer is also given. Namely, foodstuffs are considered unsafe if they are harmful to public health. That makes sense in itself, but the definition goes further. It also includes foodstuffs that are unfit for human consumption. This means that a soft drink with glass shards > 7 mm is included, because these are harmful to health. But a soft drink that is contaminated with fine sand is also an unsafe food, not because of its harmfulness to health, but because it is unsuitable for human consumption. A food can also be unsafe due to incorrect labeling or other incorrect information, for example from information on the internet. This is further tightened up in Article 16. It states that labeling or other information, regardless of channel, should not mislead the consumer.
Article 17 regulates the responsibilities of both food business operators and the government’s responsibility for enforcing food law. So food companies have to abide by the law, but enforcement by the government is also a legal obligation. This can be done through a system of official controls and other activities mentioned. How this should be done is regulated in the other regulations, which will be discussed later.
Article 18 regulates the traceability of food and feed. Food companies must have systems and procedures in place to verify who supplied the animals, raw materials, semi-finished products or other substances for a food. They must also be able to verify through systems and procedures to whom they have supplied food. In short, one should be able to take one step forward and one step backwards to find out what has happened. The Dutch government has tried to attach a time limit of 4 hours to this, but this has not been adopted by Brussels. Internal tracing within a company is not regulated by law, but in practice it will be difficult to meet the legal requirements without internal tracing. In the meantime, this traceability is also mandatory for packaging materials and other materials that can come into contact with a food, but this is stated in another regulation, namely Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004.
Finally, Articles 19 and 20 regulate the measures taken by a food business operator resp. animal feed company. This regulates that companies must remove unsafe products (see Article 14) from the market when this product is no longer under the management control of the food company. They not only have the obligation to initiate a recall, but also to inform the competent authority immediately. The Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority has drawn up an information sheet for this, which can be found on the website of this organization www.vwa.nl under “Notification”.
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