The new provisions are part of a package of five hygiene laws adopted by the EU last year to merge, harmonise and simplify complex requirements currently scattered over seventeen EU directives. Thesingle hygiene policy, due to come into force on 1 January 2006, will apply to all food and all food operators. While the package would lead to higher costs for food processors, it would also makecross-border trading in the bloc simpler for them by establishing a common set of rules.
The provisions on non-animal food imports into the EU establish a common health certificate for the bloc.
To meet the new requirements the Food Standards Agency, like other EU regulators, has issued new legislation. In the UK the requirements are contained in t the Official Feed and Food Controls(England) Regulations 2005 and and parallel legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The new legislation replaces current UK requirements mainly laid out by the Imported Food Regulations 1997. As the guidance note explains the regulation includes foods such as vegetables, cereals,nuts, mushrooms, fruit, and products made from these. It also applies to animal feedingstuffs including feed materials, compound feedingstuffs and feed additives.
Food of animal origin is covered by the Products of Animal Origin (Third Country Imports) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2004. However, the regulations do do apply to composite products, which maycontain a small amount of product of animal origin
Basically, imported feed and food should meet the same or equivalent hygiene and compositional standards as feed and food produced in the UK and in other EU member states, the FSA stated.
The EU regulation also allows the Commission to issue a list of 'high risk' items that are not products of animal origin. Products classified as such will be subject to increased importcontrols at specially designated points of entry.
In addition, importers will have to pre-notify the local or port health authority at these designated ports of the arrival of consignments.
So far the European Commission has ye to issue the list of 'high risk' products. Once the list of products has been agreed at the EU level, the FSQ plans to amend the regulations further.
In the meantime existing EU safeguard measures will continue to apply to such imports.
Local authorities or the port health authorities will continue to be responsible for carrying out enforcement checks in England. For feed, the enforcement authority is the trading standardsdepartment of the local authority in whose territory the point of entry is located.
Checks will also continue to be carried out at the point of entry into the EU. Regulators may also chose to carried out the checking at the point of release, such as warehouses, operators'premises or at other points in the feed or food chain.
"In exceptional circumstances, the enforcement authority at the point of entry may need to defer the checks to another place inland," the FSA stated. "In this case, youwill have to give a written undertaking that the consignment is sealed and will remain sealed until it reaches its destination and until the enforcement authority at its destination agrees it can beopened."
Inspectors will continue to check all documents with the product. They will have the power to ensure that the documents tally with the labelling and content of the consignment. In some cases, they may make physical checks, include taking samples for analysis in a laboratory or by a food examiner.
Feed and food consignments may be detained when such checks are taking place.
Enforcement authorities will be able to take the same actions as they currently make when products do not comply with legal requirements. Enforcement authority currently may require that the feedor food be destroyed or that it is re-despatched outside the EU, subject to certain conditions).
However, recognising that some products might need to enter the EU specifically for reprocessing, the new controls allow enforcement authorities to submit such feed or food for special treatment.
In general, food companies will not have to pay the costs of sampling or analysis. However, if a product is found not to comply with import requirements, costs which are incurred by enforcement authorities associated with detention, special treatment and re-despatch are recoverable from the person responsible for the consignment.