Sat, Apr 21, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EU’s food safety should be copied

By Lee Wu-chung 李武忠

The government is about to conditionally allow the import of US beef containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine. However, following the failure of the “three controls and five checkpoints,” most people are questioning the government’s pledge and ability to guarantee food safety. The “three controls” are constraints imposed on beef imports at the source, at borders and in markets, while the “five checkpoints” are certification, checking that shipments are marked with detailed product information, opening a high percentage of cartons of beef to check the product, conducting food safety tests and getting information on suspected problem products immediately.

Trade liberalization has increased product circulation, making the question of how to guarantee food safety a global issue. There are already successful examples of food safety controls outside of Taiwan, and even though these controls may require local adaptation because of differing national and industrial situations, as well as consumer habits, these examples are worth following. There is no reason for us to work in splendid isolation.

Many food safety controls are common to developed countries. First, these countries have established a set of laws and regulations. The EU, for example, created 211 food safety laws, regulations and standards, which gradually came to form a system for legal supervision of food safety centered around the European Commission’s White Paper on Food Safety. This system offered a legal framework for government administration and a way to avoid legal disputes. It also clearly delineated the responsibility of producers and sellers, demanding that they guarantee product quality and safety or face legal liability.

One concrete example of such regulations is that when sellers discover that a food product does not meet safety standards, they must inform the governing authority in a timely manner and cooperate with the authority in implementing appropriate response measures. If the product has already reached consumers and can no longer be controlled, they must promptly inform the public and initiate a recall.

Second, such countries have integrated a division of labor system. Japan established its Food Safety Commission to take charge of food safety coordination and management, as well as risk assessments. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are in charge of risk management, share responsibility for food safety and guarantee the transparency of the decisionmaking process. The main supervisory EU food safety authorities are the legislative organs — the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament — who are in charge of creating laws, regulations, legal texts and policy; consultative organs such as the European Food Safety Authority — which provide risk assessments and consultative services regarding food safety problems; and executive organs — the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers with six subordinate institutions — which are responsible for practical controls and creating an effective control mechanism.

Third, they have built a safety network that reaches “from the farm to the dinner table.” At the production stage, at the farm, the EU controls the health of animals and plants through a system of hazard analysis and critical control points. During the distribution stage, in the marketplace, it relies on a rapid alert system, so that when a member state discovers a possible threat to human health in food or animal feed, it can immediately report it to the European Commission to determine the risk level before informing other member states. The individual member states will then adopt the necessary countermeasures with the help of the European Food Safety Authority. On the dinner table, at the consumer stage, the EU relies on a food labeling system divided into a horizontal and a vertical system. The first regulates the contents of safety labels used for all foods, and the latter regulates food hygiene and identification.

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