It's been over 30 years since the alert control system started in the EU, and over 14 years since the publishing of Regulation (EC) 178/2002, where the legal basis of the RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food & Feed) were set. The rapid alert system is extremely effective, and consists of contact points in all RASFF member countries, and organizations that exchange information, on any possible health risk.
It is undoubtedly the key legislation, where the need for harmonized control for the "single European market" mechanisms is highlighted, always putting first the need for protection and the defence of consumer security, as well as building confidence in the food and feed marketed in the EU.
It talks about the control mechanisms and the entities of scientific and technical assistance that support the Commission, the interaction and collaboration of the trading companies with the Administration, any emerging risks, of the transparency, or the rapid alert system, crisis management and emergency situations.
In short, this regulation provides the basis for ensuring high levels of health protection for individuals and the interests of consumers in relation to food, while guaranteeing the effective functioning of the internal market. It also establishes common principles and responsibilities, the means to provide a sound scientific basis and efficient organizational arrangements and procedures to underpin decision-making on issues regarding the safety of food and feed.
Rapid Alert System (RASFF)
The rapid alert system is extremely effective, consisting of contact points in all RASFF member countries and organizations that exchange information about any possible health risk. There is a permanent service (24/7 format) to ensure the sending, receiving, and the response of urgent notifications in the shortest possible time.
The 27 Member States of the EU, together with the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, are full members of RASFF
When any RASFF member has information about a serious health risk from food or feed they must inform the European Commission immediately via the RASFF system. The European Commission then promptly informs the other members in order to take appropriate action.
Included among the measures to be taken is a possible withdrawal of the product from the market. The Commission assesses all information received and forwards it to all RASFF members using one of four types of notifications:
-Alert Notification: For products already on sale presenting a serious risk, and where urgent action must be taken.
-Information Notification: Used when a product is not yet on the market, the risk is not considered serious, and no urgent measures need to be taken.
-Rejection at the border: In the EU's external borders, including Switzerland, a direct rejection of the commodity is produced where any health risk that violates the law is detected.
-News: Any information related to food safety, which has not been notified, and that the authorities consider interesting to share with RASFF members.
These alerts and notifications contain, amongst other things, any information concerning the type and origin of the goods; the country where it is detected, and the legislative breach, in relation to the type of health risks defaulting: pathogenic microorganisms, phytosanitary residues, additives, allergens, heavy metals, mycotoxins, etc.
Presence of phytosanitary residues in the EU detected by the RASFF
In 2015, of 3,049 notifications that were collected through the RASFF system, 775 were classified as warnings, and 1,387 were border rejections. Of all those notifications, 405 notifications correspond to phytosanitary residues that violate the law (basically a breach of maximum residue limits and unauthorized substances within the European framework).
Compared to 2014, of 3,157 notifications submitted, 435 were for phytosanitary residues. This represents 13.7% compared to a 13.2% in 2015. There was a slight decline in percentage and absolute value, although the figures are moving in the same order of magnitude.
Significantly, out of the 405 noncompliance notifications due to a risk of phytosanitary residues, only 34 were on products originating in the European Union, i.e. 8.4% of these. Regarding the remaining notifications, only 5 countries account for nearly 50% of the ones remaining: Turkey, Egypt, China, India and the Dominican Republic.
Analyzing the trajectory of some countries in recent years, it is worth noting the effort and the great progress being achieved in health control and food safety in many importing countries of South America, with a drastic reduction in the number of alerts compared to the past. It is also worth citing the progress and the reduction the number of alerts raised by pesticides in the case of Morocco.
As of November 1, 2016, there have only been 207 phytosanitary residues notifications, which could mean closing the financial year with a significant decrease in alerts over previous years.
The phytosanitary products with a greater presence, and a greater number of alerts raised in 2015, were: chlorpyrifos, carbendazim, acetamiprid and dimethoate.
There are several important aspects to highlight underlying the above information:
1. That of the 28 active substances found in 2015, and considered in this statistic, 16 (57.2%) are not allowed in the EU.
2. There remains a dominant presence and use of organochlorine, organophosphates and carbamates compounds that is repeated year after year, with no clear trend to reduce these.
In short, there is still a long way to go for many countries exporting to the EU, as they must improve good field practices, be more attentive to phytosanitary products registration trends, legislation and new ingredients. Self-monitoring and fiscal oversight at the source must be improved in order to avoid surprise rejections, which must affect the image of importers concerned.
AGQ Labs has extensive experience in source control of fresh produce suppliers in a distribution chain, central purchasing, processing industry or exporters that are in compliance with legal and business requirements regarding the content of phytosanitary residues or other micro-pollutants.
1. European Commission (2011). Food safety – From Farm to Fork. Available at: http://europa.eu/pol/food/index_en.htm.
2. Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety.
3. European Commission (2016). The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) - Annual Report 2015. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/rasff_annual_report_2015.pdf
Miguel Valero Valero
Director corporativo agroalimentaria AGQ Labs
Tel.: +34 955 738 908www.agqlabs.eswww.agqlabs.clwww.agqlabs.pewww.agqlabs.mx