Written Q&A to EU Commission – Food frauds and FVO powers

Question for written answer to the Commission 

Marc Tarabella (S&D) , Jean Louis Cottigny (S&D)

Subject:  Range of FVO audits

Could the Commission broaden the range of the Food & Veterinary Office (FVO) audits so that they cover food fraud?

Does the Commission share the view that the FVO and the Member States should carry out regular unannounced, independent and mandatory inspections in order to detect intentional infringements and ensure that the most stringent food safety standards are met?

In order to restore and maintain consumer confidence, it is important to be transparent as regards the manner in which official inspections and checks are carried out, and also to publish the reports or findings on the checks and inspections conducted on operators in the food industry.

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission (21st February 2014)

Through its audits, the FVO assesses whether the controls in place in Member States to verify compliance with the EU agri-food chain rules deliver effectively and allow proper enforcement. In doing so, it also identifies potential weak points in official controls along the food chain, or the governing legal framework, which may provide opportunities for potential irregularities.

Member States’ official controls to verify compliance with the agri-food chain rules are unannounced (Regulation (EC) No 882/2004). The proposed Regulation on official controls, currently discussed by the co-legislators, introduces and expands that principle to regular controls directed at identifying intentional violations. As regards FVO audits, the current legislation does not mandate it to carry out unannounced inspections. Moreover, the Commission considers that the Member States themselves are better placed to carry out such inspections on the basis of their on-the-ground intelligence, and their investigative powers.

Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 already requires Member States to make control information available to the public. The proposal referred to above requires competent authorities to publish regularly and timely information on official controls, non-compliances, and measures or penalties applied. Moreover, competent authorities will be enabled to make publicly available the outcome of controls performed on individual operators and information about their scoring against food chain law requirements (e.g. ‘smileys’). As regards the audits of the FVO, the Commission underlines that the results of these are published routinely, and since 1998.

© European Union, 2014 – Source: European Parliament

FVO (Food and Veterinary Office) – Audit reports – Belgium: microbiological criteria

Food and Veterinary Office – Audit reports
Belgium – Public Health – Microbiological Criteria (Reg. EC 2073/2005)
Country: Belgium – Audit number 2013 – 6861
Audit period Jan – Feb 2013 / Published 19/09/2013
Competent Authority response to the report recommendations: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fvo/act_getPDFannx.cfm?ANX_ID=7361
Competent Authority comments on the draft report: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fvo/act_getPDFannx.cfm?ANX_ID=7362
In the conclusions of the opening report the FVO found that the level of detail and the frequency are not adequate for certain commodities, that the controls have not covered all relevant aspects of the Reg. EC 2073/2005, the sanctions are not proportioned and the implementation of the controls was not fully effective in certain cases (meat preparations, fishery products and food of non-animal origin).
“The organisation of official controls at FBO level in relation to Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 in general and to food safety and process hygiene criteria in particular, varies widely between the different types of commodities in terms of level of detail and frequency which are not adequate for certain commodities. For most of the commodities under review, the procedures for official control at establishment level included very limited aspects concerning compliance with the different requirements of Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005. The official controls were not adequately documented to have covered all relevant aspects of this piece of legislation in most cases. The implementation of these controls was not fully effective in several cases assessed (in particular for meat preparations, fishery products and food of non-animal origin). Numerous shortcomings were not detected by the CA. A lack of CA action for long-standing deficiencies, in particular as regards sampling and testing methods and action in case of non-compliant test results (including for food safety criteria) was noted. Moreover, the sanctions given were not proportionate in the cases reviewed by the FVO audit team in the dairy sector. The official controls carried out by the private certification and inspection bodies carrying out validation of FBOs’ own control systems have not been effective in some of the establishments visited by the FVO audit team.”
After the inspection the FVO extended to the Competent Authority eight reccomendations, which you can find at the end of the report and in the above linked documents (Comments and response of the CA based on the report).