The package of five hygiene laws adopted by the EU last year, aim to merge, harmonise and simplify complex requirements currently scattered over seventeen EU directives. The single hygiene policy will apply to all food and all food operators.
While the package would lead to higher costs for food processors, it would also make cross-border trading in the bloc simpler for them by establishing a common set of rules. With the establishment of a common health certificate for food and feed products entering the EU, imports would also face less red tape under the new rules.
This is a mixed blessing for food processors. Those bringing supplies into the bloc would find it easier to do so. However it could also result in increasing competition within the bloc from non-EU companies
The regulations adopted by the Commission yesterday set out the procedures companies will have to follow in making the transition to the new food safety regime from 1 January 2006.
The new regulations makes manufacturers and other operators along the supply chain bear the primary responsibility for food safety. Under the EU's new hygiene laws there are no exemptions for registration as there is under current rules. All food businesses will now be required to register with local authorities.
The legislation lays down general hygiene rules for the production of all food. Specific rules are set for meat and meat products, bivalve molluscs, fishery products, milk and dairy products, eggs and egg products, frogs' legs and snails, animal fats, gelatine and collagen.
The EU's unified hygiene regulations include provisions increasing the amount of information required to trace foods and ingredients through the supply chain. They also include information on testing methods for marine biotoxins and fishery products along with requirements for listing approved food companies.
The package introduces also introduces hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP), an internationally agreed set of principles to manage the food safety risks during production processes.
The HACCP plan is based on seven principles identified in the Codex guidelines adopted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation's Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1993.
The regulations will not apply to the direct supply by the producer of small quantities of primary products to the final consumer or to local retail establishments. For example, the EU's administrative body points out that apples or eggs sold directly at the farm gate or in local retail shops are not covered by the regulations.
The regulations also include a special provision to ensure flexibility for food produced in remote areas and for traditional production and methods.
The hygiene package was adopted in April 2004. The application of the laws was delayed until 1 January 2006 to give member states, countries trading with the EU and food business operators time to conform to the new legal framework.