intro: consumer confidence in the safety of food products has sometimes been shaken in recent years by the cumulative impacts of food-related health crises. Responding to the challenge, the European Union has put in place a comprehensive strategy to restore people’s belief in the safety of their food “from the farm to the fork”.
traceability: the general principles of food and animal feed safety were set out for the first time in early 2002 in a Regulation often known as the General Food Law. Including feed in the scope of this legislation was particularly important because feed contamination has been at the root of all major food scares of the last few years. This law makes food safety the clear responsibility of food and feed businesses. From 1 January 2005, they must ensure that all foodstuffs, animal feed and feed ingredients are traceable right through the food chain.
wide watch: the General Food Law is supplemented by targeted legislation on a raft of food safety issues, such as use of pesticides, food supplements, colourings, antibiotics and hormones in food production; by rules on hygiene; and by stringent procedures on release, marketing, labelling and traceability of crops and foodstuffs containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
animal welfare: EU responsibility extends also to the welfare of animals and poultry, both on the farm and when they are being transported. The European Commission oversees measures to protect public health if there are outbreaks of animal or poultry diseases.
consumer information: not only is it important for food to be safe; consumers have a right to know what they are buying and that it meets their needs. EU food labelling rules have existed for many years, but they are constantly being updated. Recent developments include agreement on new requirements to make it easier for consumers to identify ingredients to which they may be allergic. Clear definitions identical across the EU are planned for the future for the use of terms like 'low fat' and 'high fibre'.
ingredients in full: alcoholic drinks will no longer be exempt from the directive, ensuring that commonly used preservatives such as sulphite - which can provoke asthma attacks - will now appear on wine and beer labels. Under the new rules (in force by 2005), it will be mandatory to list all sub-ingredients of compounds, which means that allergens cannot be ‘hidden’. Sauces can currently contain allergenic ingredients like eggs, milk or mustard without specifying so. Previously it was possible to declare ingredients only as a category, for example ‘vegetable oil’. The new directive will mean that ‘peanut oil’, if this is the ingredient, must be specified as such.
time scheduling: EU states had a year to incorporate the directive into their food safety regulations, and producers then had another year to modify their labels.