European member states have sent clear signals that staff resources for official controls are increasingly limited, according to a report.
Any potential further reduction risks negatively affecting the levels and quality of controls and capacity to respond to emergencies. Resource shortage also concerned equipment in some member states for laboratories, or means of transport for staff, affecting performance of controls.
The European Commission said it took note of these signals and will consider such issues when developing legislation. It added member states will likely aim to address the problem with new IT systems, re-organization and optimized procedures.
The Official Controls Regulation (EU) 2017/625 applied from April 2017 with rules gradually coming into force and a main application date of Dec. 14, 2019.
Member states national authorities submitted annual reports on official controls which showed they continue to fulfil their role under food and feed law. However, as of July 2017, the 2016 annual report had been submitted by only three member states out of 28, the 2015 report by 25 of them and the 2014 report by all 28 member states.
Main areas of non-compliance identified by member states included: operational, structural or equipment-based hygiene requirements; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP); labeling of food and feed; additives in food and feed; poor or absent record keeping and microbiological contamination.
Underlying causes for these problems were high staff turnover in food business operators, often linked to low wages and which affects continuous use of good hygiene practices, lack of training at food firms, and/or lack of knowledge of the requirements.
The report found that while member states have control systems in place which ensure generally acceptable levels of compliance, the Commission continues to identify deficiencies in official controls and highlighted there is room for improvement and that complacency should be avoided.
Member states reports presented evidence that the established trend towards increasingly risk-based controls continues ensuring the best use is made of resources. However, audits by the Commission services confirmed risk based controls are not applied in all areas where such action is warranted.
An apparently high rate of non-compliance does not necessarily indicate a generally poor level of compliance but may point to good risk-based targeting of controls. Increased targeted controls means more resources are potentially available for follow-up and enforcement.
“One further effect of increasingly risk-based controls is that data on non-compliance are not directly comparable from one year to the next as more targeted controls may well lead to finding more cases of non-compliance,” according to the report.
Reports from member states suggest an overall greater emphasis on follow-up and enforcement. Some reported introduction of administrative fines as opposed to enforcement through national courts, or the increase of such fines to act as a better deterrent.
Other ways to improve compliance are withdrawal of fines if the offender follows training and provision of training followed by inspections to measure effectiveness.