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Legislation

Controls and Legislation

In the previous article we outlined some of the microbiological, chemical, physical and allergenic contaminants which can impact the safety of our food.

One of the key priorities of the European Union (EU) is to ensure the health of humans, animals, and plants at every step of the food system, i.e. from farm to fork. This goal is pursued by preventing food contamination and promoting food hygiene, animal health and welfare.

The safety of our food is a shared responsibility. The food industry, research, government and consumers all have a role to play in helping to ensure the integrity of our food chain. In particular, the following control measures are in place to ensure the safety of our food:

  • Food policy, legislation and regulations
  • Research and evidence based decision making
  • Monitoring and enforcement
  • Analytical Methods and procedures
  • Consumer education

Food Law in the European Union

Food is governed by a complexity of laws and regulations which set out the government’s requirements to be met by food chain operators to ensure the food is safe and of adequate quality.

Food Law in the European Union covers all stages of the production and distribution chain, adopting the farm-to-fork approach. It covers food control, food safety and relevant aspects of food trade. Minimum quality requirements are included to ensure food produced is unadulterated and not subjected to any fraudulent practices intended to deceive the consumer.

It is important to note, that this includes the entire chain, beginning with provisions for animal feed, on-farm controls and early processing through to final distribution and use by the consumers.

Food law aims at ensuring the health and welfare of humans, animals, plants and the environment and establishes the rights of the consumers to safe, authentic and accurate information. Many of the EU regulations are mandatory for member states and they must be incorporated into national legislation.

  • EU General Food Law

Regulation 178/2002 lays down the general principles for food and feed law and sets out an overarching and coherent framework for the development of food and feed legislation at both a European Union and national level.

This ‘food law’ defines a food and feed business as any business carrying out any operation of production, manufacture, processing, storage, transport or distribution of feed or feed. It sets out food safety requirements, traceability and responsibilities of food and feed business operators. Key articles in this regulation include:

The General Food Law also sets up an independent agency responsible for scientific advice and support, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Moreover, it creates the main procedures and tools for the management of emergencies and crises as well as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

There are four key elements of EU Food law:

(1) the objectives of EU food law to protect consumers’ interests;

(2) the principles of risk analysis and precaution;

(3) obligations on businesses regarding the products they place on the market, the processes they apply and their communication towards consumers;

(4) public powers of law enforcement and incident management.

EU’s food policy is based on solid science and thorough risk assessment. Risks are established by rigorous science and evidence based risk assessments which combine hazards with exposure, commonly carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

These risks are governed by heavy legal requirements and must go through rigorous assessments for pre-market approval, which are especially needed in the case of additives, sweeteners, GMO-related food, novel and functional foods, supplements or enzymes and packaging.

However, the precautionary principle has been used to restrict and prohibit new products or initiatives when there is no hard scientific evidence. According to the European Commission, the precautionary principle is described as:

A phenomenon, product or process that may have a dangerous effect, identified by a scientific and objective evaluation, if this evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty

In addition to the General Food Law, there are a number of key regulations in the European Union to help ensure the integrity of our food chain. These are outlined in the table below.

Key Regulations EC Number
Food Hygiene Controls (EC) No 852/2004, (EC) No 853/2004, (EC) No 854/2004
Official Feed and Food Control Regulations (EC) No 882/2004
Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs (EC) No 2073/2005
EC Regulation on Contaminants in Food Council Regulation 315/93/EEC
Maximum levels for certain contaminants in food Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006

These regulations are important because they set out the minimum acceptable standards for food and allow monitoring and enforcement against this standard.

  • Food Hygiene Controls

Regulation No 852/2004, 853/2004 and 854/2004 lays down the general rules for food business operators on the hygiene of foodstuffs. In particular, the regualtions specify:

  • Food safety must be ensrured across the entire food chain

  • Primary responsibility for food safety rests with the food business operator

  • It is neccessary to establish microbiological criteria and temperature control requirements based on scientific risk assessment

  • The cold chain must be maintained for food that cannot be stored safetly at ambient temperatures

  • General implementation of procedures based on the HACCP principles, together with the application of general food hygiene practice, should reinforce food business operator’s responsibility

  • Guides to good practice are a valuable instrument to aid food business operators at all levels of the food chain with compliance with food hygiene rules and with the application of HACCP principle

  • It is neccessary to ensure that imported foods are of at least the same hygiene standard as food produced in the Community, or are of an equivalent standard

The breadth and depth of regulation in Europe can be vast. In addition to the General Food Law and Food Hygiene Controls regulation, there are regulations around animal nutrition, labelling and nutrition, chemical safety, biological safety, official controls, food waste and food improvement agents. If you would like to explore EU regulation in more detail, please follow the link to the European Commission’s webpage in the See Also section below.

What we would like you to do

Food products and food production in Europe have never been safer, This high level of safety is due to considerable political, economic and scientific efforts, often in response to the kind of food scandals that have characterized the last three decades.

In particular, the paradigm shift in European food policy, food legislation and food control systems has paved the way for the introduction of an integrated approach from farm to fork, science based risk assessment schemes and the establishment of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) - discussed in this article.

Please share your thoughts on the food system:

  • Do you trust our food system?
  • Are you confident the food you purchase is safe?
  • Do you have an concerns? If so, what are they?

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Food Science

EIT Food