Country: Austria

Name: National Food Safety System

History:

Due to the federal structure of Austria, food legislation is organised centrally, while implementation is primarily the responsibility of the governors of the nine provinces. The basis is the Food Act of 1975 with its amendments, which also establishes the implementation of food-relevant Community Law. Coordination for risk analysis rests with the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs and Generations. A long established system provides for scientific contributions as well as consideration of other legitimate factors by scientists and the representatives of all stakeholders.

Structure:

Austria is a federal republic divided into nine provinces, each with its own provincial assembly. The federal parliament has two chambers: the National Council, and the Federal Council, which decides on amendments to the Food Act, which then becomes a federal law.

The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs and Generations is the country's supreme health authority. It is responsible for formulating health policy, including matters of food safety, for drafting legislation and general directives. The Governor of each province implements the directives of the Federal Ministry. The aim of this legislation is to protect consumers against health risks from misleading marketing practices.

The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs and Generations issues ordinances, in particular to lay down maximum residue levels for pesticides in foods "to ensure that the principles of food hygiene are observed," according to the Charter of the Austrian Food Safety System.

A department of toxicology drafts legislation pertaining to chemical safety of food. It is involved in the consultation process and coordinated research in relation to risk assessment, except for matters of hygiene. This research is undertaken by experts "who are known for their experience and qualifications, and who are independent of economic interests in their capacity as university scientists." The research is funded by several ministries, and expertise is also provided by specialists of the Federal Institutes of Food Investigation, mainly in the field of exposure assessment.

The Austrian Codex Commission (Codex Alimentarius Austricus) advises the Minister. It has to be heard for drafts of legislative acts. Its members, appointed for a 5-year period, are scientists, most of them independent university experts, with specific knowledge in one or more of the relevant fields. Other members of the Commission are representatives of the ministries concerned and of the stakeholder organisations, including several members representing consumers' organisations. "In conformity with a strict interpretation of the Food Act, the principle of precaution is followed. Austria is in agreement with the EU's wide interpretation of this principle."

Objectives and Responsibilities:

The provincial governors are responsible for the surveillance of trade in the commodities covered by the Federal Act, taking into full consideration EU-legislation. To perform this task they call on the services of qualified persons of various kinds of specialisation and may, under certain conditions, delegate their duties to individual municipalities.

The Federal Ministry for Social Affairs and Generations may issue ordinances regulating the training of supervisory staff. It issues annual rules for the surveillance of trade in the commodities concerned. The governors, who must implement these rules, are required to submit to the Minister an annual report on the subject.

"The supervisory authorities can seize commodities, as well as containers and advertising material, whenever there is reason to suspect that they are spoiled or harmful to health, contravene legal provisions, etc. A specified legal procedure has to be followed in connection with seized commodities and their confiscation," according to the Charter.

Another important task is going beyond the communication between the representatives of interested groups. That is, to address consumers and people working directly in the field of food marketing and processing. A number of brochures and leaflets describing where problems may exist, what to do about them and what legal provisions might be, "have been widely distributed, notably concerning food hygiene.

Comments:

The National Food Safety System of Austria is a comprehensive, well established and efficient organisation which clearly defines the responsibilities of the system, the delegation of authority to municipalities, when necessary. Of special significance is the authority invested with the supervisory bodies to seize commodities. This particular aspect is similar to that of the Irish Food Safety Authority.

Food safety procedures in Austria follow a preventive approach, in that hygienic production methods are based on HACCP, monitoring of residues, dissemination relevant information to the public; and addressing concerns in particular regarding novel foods, notably those derived from GMOs; and the requirement for clear labeling to permit consumers choice.

By Aaron Priel, just-food.com correspondent

To see PART ONE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the UK and the US Click Here

To see PART TWO of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the Australia and Ireland Click Here

To see PART THREE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the Canada and Sweden Click Here

To see PART FOUR of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Denmark and Germany Click Here

To see PART FIVE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Finland and France Click Here