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Irish Examiner - Farming - - NEWS - Stephen Cado­gan If a EU Mem­ber State does not no­tify in a timely man­ner, the Com­mis­sion may launch an in­fringe­ment pro­ce­dure against that Mem­ber State for fail­ure to com­ply with its obli­ga­tions un­der EU law

It’s a busy time for the EU’s Rapid Alert Sys­tem for Food and Feed (RASFF).

For last week, plus this week to date, there have been more than 75 no­ti­fi­ca­tions of se­ri­ous health risk de­riv­ing from food or feed. They in­cluded more than 17 no­ti­fi­ca­tions re­lat­ing to find­ings of the fipronil in­sec­ti­cide con­tam­i­nant in eggs or egg prod­ucts (and six re­lat­ing to bac­te­ri­ally con­tam­i­nated foods from Brazil).

The Dutch gov­ern­ment says the fipronil egg scare, which spread to 18 Euro­pean coun­tries, will cost its poul­try farm­ers at least €33 mil­lion. As a re­sult, EU health com­mis­sioner Vyte­nis An­driukaitis will dis­cuss with EU health min­is­ters and na­tional food safety agen­cies how to im­prove food safety EU alert sys­tems.

EU law re­quires a mem­ber state to im­me­di­ately no­tify the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s rapid alert sys­tem if it has any in­for­ma­tion on a se­ri­ous risk to hu­man health de­riv­ing from food or feed. Bel­gian au­thor­i­ties knew about fipronil early in June this year but did not no­tify the EU’s Rapid Alert Sys­tem for Food and Feed (RASFF) un­til late July.

Some EU au­thor­i­ties were alerted in early July, but were not co-or­di­nated with the RASFF, which didn’t have an alert un­til about three weeks later.

The Com­mis­sion has been ex­plain­ing how the RASFF is meant to func­tion.

What is the RASFF?

>> Launched nearly four dec- ades ago, in 1979, the RASFF is pri­mar­ily an IT tool de­signed to swiftly ex­change in­for­ma­tion be­tween na­tional au­thor­i­ties on health risks re­lated to food and feed. A mem­ber coun­try of the net­work that iden­ti­fies a health haz­ard in­forms the rest of the sys­tem’s net­work on the prod­uct con­cerned and the mea­sures taken to ad­dress the risk. Mea­sures in­clude with­hold­ing, re­call­ing, seizing or re­ject­ing prod­ucts.

This rapid ex­change of in­for­ma­tion al­lows all RASFF mem­bers to check in real time whether they are also af­fected and if ur­gent ac­tion is needed. The au­thor­i­ties of af­fected coun­tries have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to take the nec­es­sary emer­gency mea­sures, in­clud­ing giv­ing di­rect in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic, with­draw­ing prod­ucts from the mar­ket, and con­trols on the ground.

Who are the mem­bers of RASFF?

>> All EU Mem­ber States; EEA coun­tries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland); the Euro­pean Food Safety Au­thor­ity (EFSA); and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, and Switzer­land is a par­tial mem­ber as far as bor­der re­jec­tions of prod­uct of an­i­mal ori­gin are con­cerned.

How does the RASFF work in prac­tice?

>> It starts with no­ti­fi­ca­tion by a mem­ber of the ex­is­tence of a se­ri­ous risk to pub­lic health linked to food or feed. This in­for­ma­tion reaches the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion (as man­ager of the sys­tem), which in turn ver­i­fies the no­ti­fi­ca­tion and im­me­di­ately trans­mits it to the other mem­bers. Upon re­ceiv­ing the in­for­ma­tion, other mem­ber coun­tries check if they are con­cerned. If the prod­uct is on their mar­ket, they are able to trace it, us­ing the in­for­ma­tion in the no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

They re­port back on what they have found and what mea­sures they have taken, for trans­par­ent and mu­tual in­for­ma­tion of all RASFF mem­bers.

For prod­ucts from the EU, the mem­ber state where the prod­uct orig­i­nates re­ports on the out­come of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions with re­gard to the ori­gin, dis­tri­bu­tion and cause of the prob­lem iden­ti­fied. This al­lows other mem­ber coun­tries to take rapid ac­tion if and when needed. In ad­di­tion, the sys­tem al­lows mem­ber coun­tries to re­quest clar­i­fi­ca­tion as re­gards the tim­ing, scope or nature of no­ti­fi­ca­tions. For in­stance if there is ev­i­dence that an in­ci­dent could have been re­ported ear­lier, it is pos­si­ble to ask the no­ti­fy­ing coun­try for an ex­pla­na­tion.

What is pre­dom­i­nantly no­ti­fied in RASFF?

Around half of the no­ti­fi­ca­tions con­cern con­trols at the outer EEA borders, at points of en­try or bor­der in­spec­tion posts when a con­sign­ment was not ac­cepted for im­port, or when a sam­ple was taken for anal­y­sis at the bor­der and the con­sign­ment was re­leased.

Of­fi­cial con­trols on the in­ter­nal mar­ket come next. Other no­ti­fi­ca­tions can arise from a con­sumer com­plaint, a com­pany no­ti­fy­ing the out­come of a check it car­ried out on its own ac­count, or a food poi­son­ing in­ci­dent.

What ac­tion can the Com­mis­sion take if a Mem­ber State of the EU fails to no­tify in a timely man­ner?

>> If a EU Mem­ber State does not no­tify in a timely man­ner, the Com­mis­sion may launch an in­fringe­ment pro­ce­dure against that Mem­ber State for fail­ure to com­ply with its obli­ga­tions un­der EU law.

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