David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, today welcomed the political agreement by the European Council on a regulation to set hygiene rules for food of animal origin.

The measure was proposed by the European Commission as part of its general hygiene package. Food of animal origin requires special control measures due to the specific risk of microbiological and chemical hazards. Such hazards include the contamination of food with pathogenic micro-organisms such as salmonella and listeria and the presence of parasites (e.g. trichina in pork and anisakis-larvae in fish).

This measure aims to prevent hazards to human health arising from such food. The legislation focuses on setting objectives while leaving business flexibility in deciding which safety measures to take.
Welcoming the Council’s political agreement, Byrne said: “The proposed Regulation on hygiene rules for food of animal origin is a key aspect of achieving food safety for Europe’s consumers while at the same time delivering the flexibility that is necessary to maintain the celebrated diversity of our food. The purpose is to lay down rules to be respected by food business operators with regard to the hygienic production, processing and distribution of food of animal origin. This will give food operators primary responsibility for food safety right through the food chain.”

The Regulation agreed today by the Council sets out specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, affecting products including fresh and processed meat, milk and dairy products, and fishery products. The new text introduces more flexibility compared with current legislation, which is in many respects very detailed and prescriptive. The intention is that further simplification will become feasible in the longer term, with the implementation of the self-checking Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system agreed by the Council in the first part of the hygiene package in June 2002. The HACCP system prescribes steps towards identifying and addressing points throughout the production chain where control is critical to food safety.

This Regulation only affects food of animal origin. Following the principle of flexibility, exemptions can be made for food produced according to traditional methods, by small businesses or in remote regions. Exemptions that may compromise food hygiene objectives are not allowed, and the procedures for granting exemptions must be transparent.
As a general rule, the Regulation does not cover retail establishments such as hotels, restaurants and shops since the general hygiene rules should be sufficient to ensure food hygiene at this level. However, where retail establishments supply products of animal origin to other retail establishments, the Regulation will apply.
The Regulation on hygiene rules for food of animal origin is being adopted through the co-decision procedure. Following a common position by Council, it is expected to go to the European Parliament for a second reading during the first half of 2003.

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For further information on the proposed regulation, click here.