This is the first EU-wide e-government application in the field of food safety.
"The new The TRAde Control and Expert System (TRACES) database will facilitate tracking the 50 000 animals transported in the EU each day," said David Byrne, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection. "This is a major innovation and will help in case of an outbreak of an animal disease like foot and mouth disease."
The new database is designed to reduce red tape for both economic operators and competent authorities. For example, a consignment of animals moving from Spain to Italy via France can be managed with TRACES using just one electronic form rather than the separate systems and paperwork that would previously have been involved.
For example, if a dealer is transporting a consignment of cattle from Spain to Italy via France, he can fill in all details of the consignment online, sending this electronic form to the relevant Spanish competent authority. The electronic form is controlled and if the animals comply with the relevant requirements, the form is validated.
As soon as validation is given, TRACES sends the information to the competent authority at the destination, to the central competent authority in France and to all staging points, so that controls can be made en route and at the final destination. In case of a disease outbreak, it is easy to trace the consignment backwards and forwards.
TRACES will therefore create a single central database to track the movement of animals and certain types of products. THE EU says that this will improve the amount and quality of information to trace animal movements, along with the exchange of information between national and EU authorities.
The system will also provide a system of electronic veterinary certificates, enabling trade operators to enter the relevant information online. It will also manage lists of establishments in non-EU countries that are authorised to export products of animal origin to the EU, and manage rejected consignments at EU borders.
For example, if a consignment of products arrives in Antwerp and is registered in TRACES, the agent at the Border Inspection Post (BIP) will be able to fill in part I of the Common Veterinary Entry Document (CVED) describing the details of the consignment. After controlling the products, the veterinary authority at the BIP will give or refuse authorisation.
If authorised, the CVED is sent to the competent authority at the destination. If the consignment is rejected, all BIPs within the EU will be informed via TRACES.
Traceability in the food chain is a huge issue, especially following recent food scares. In the US, a mandatory livestock identification system has also been proposed to combat outbreaks of food borne disease such as mad cow or foot and mouth disease. The system would work by keeping track of herd movements and being able to quickly identify animals suspected of carrying disease.
If the bill is passed, it would give the US agricultural department (USDA) 90 days to establish a nationwide, electronic livestock identification system that could track farm-raised animals, such as cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry, from birth to slaughter. The estimated cost of the project has been put at $175 million (€138m).
Some form of animal ID or traceability system is clearly vital if the US is to regain global consumer confidence. Following the discovery of a low pathogenic strain of the bird flu virus in Delaware in February, Japan, Russia, Poland, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea placed a temporary ban on US poultry imports.