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Food safety in Europe:
developments and prospects

The challenge of keeping our food safe in the EU
John dalli
European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy

faced crises in the past and we
will face crises in the future. The
challenges of the past have led
us to develop a crisis response
structure which becomes ever
more swift and effective through
the lessons learned in dealing with crises.

A

t the beginning of this year the
news broke that 2300 tons of
potentially contaminated feed fat
had been delivered to 25 German feed
manufacturers. Between 100,000 and
200,000 tons of feed had been produced
with the tainted ingredient. Almost 5000
farms in Germany had accepted delivery
of this product. We were facing the first
major food crisis of 2011.
This year alone we dealt with three
such crises: the dioxin contamination in
Germany, the possible contamination of
imported food after the nuclear accident
in Japan and the E. Coli outbreak that
affected mostly the northern part of
Germany.

Let’s take the example of the dioxin
contamination.
My services were in constant contact
with the German authorities throughout
the dioxin crisis. They immediately
disseminated all information to Member
States through the Rapid Alert System for
Food and Feed (RASFF) and also kept
in touch with the competent authorities in
third countries providing a clear picture to
our trade partners. Commission officials
met with stakeholders in the fats and
oils industry to explore ways of further
strengthening the monitoring of dioxin
in feed. I was in constant contact with

the competent political authorities of
Germany.
The lessons learned? This autumn we
adopted additional measures, which will
help us further reduce the possibility
of incidents in the future. One of these
measures, for instance, provides for the
segregation of the production of fats and
oils intended for feed and food purposes
from the production of fats and oils for
technical uses.

which deals with public health alerts. In
order to ensure co-ordination and clear
lines of communication, it held meetings
with EU scientific bodies and public
health and food safety Authorities almost

While the dioxin crisis was triggered
when it became known that maximum
safety levels have been exceeded
without any actual harmful consequences
documented, the E.Coli crisis caused
death and permanent disability apart from
vast economic damage.
In this case the Commission immediately
activated the RASFF and the Early
Warning and Response System (EWRS),

on a daily basis. The European Centre for
Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
was asked to carry out a risk assessment,
which it completed in only two days.
The assistance of European Food Safety
Authority (EFSA) experts in co-ordinating
investigations carried out by the
Member State Authorities was crucial in
identifying sprouted seeds as the source
of the outbreak. Actions taken by our EU
Reference Laboratory in Rome also bore
fruit quickly. Within a week, the Laboratory
developed a method to reduce the time
needed to detect the E. Coli bacterium in
food from about six days to 48 hours.

Still the exceptions do occur: we have

Finally, let’s not forget the tremendous

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health, by taking preventive action, by
promoting monitoring and surveillance, by
ensuring the rapid exchange of accurate
information and by further harmonising
controls throughout the food chain.
Let’s be clear about one thing - we will
continue to experience food crisis within
the EU. Events outside the EU will
continue to trigger our prevention and
precautionary mechanisms as happened
following the Fukushima nuclear incident
in Japan.

We can consider such incidents to be
the exceptions which prove the rule.
They stand in sharp contrast with the
fact that in the EU we have in place what
is probably the safest food chain in the
world. An intricate architecture of rules
and regulations applies as a matter of
course in the production of all food and
from farm to fork everyday across the EU.
All imported food is monitored to ensure it
reaches the same safety standards.

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efforts undertaken to convince those
of our trading partners, which took
disproportionate measures against EU
products, to opt for a more appropriate
response.

This crisis drove us to achieve some
remarkable results through hard, excellent
work but it is never enough. For instance,
we must, and we will, identify what
remedial action can be taken to ensure
the better use of the tools at our disposal
for a better assessment of outbreak
situations and to improve communication
of health concerns. This will help us to
avoid considerable economic losses,
which such outbreaks can cause.

I think that throughout the years the EU
has demonstrated in practice both the
effectiveness of its response and its
openness to learn useful lessons. Over
the years, we have managed to build a
truly robust system that protects the most
important quality of our food - its safety.

We will continue to apply the principle
" prevention is better than the cure "
on which the entire EU food safety
legislative framework rests. We will keep
addressing risks to animal and plant
health, and consequently to human

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