EU food regulators meet to discuss common projects, fees

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, European union, European food safety authority

Representatives of regulators in the EU's 27 members begin a
two-day meeting today to discuss common proposed projects on food
safety issues, data collection, folic acid supplementation, and
fees for mandatory risk assessments.

The meeting of the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) advisory forum in Parma, Italy is a follow up to an agreement regulators made last December to co-ordinate food safety and nutrition policies across the bloc.

All member states national food safety regulators belong to the advisory forum, a consultative body to the risk assessment agency.

The harmonisation of major policy issues across the bloc through EFSA could eventually lead to a more consistent approach to food safety within the EU, potentially easing some of the regulatory burden for companies that operate across the 27 member states.

EFSA has also said that the co-operation will help ensure that research and effort is not duplicated across the bloc.

The network will also lead to the early identification and analysis of emerging risks, and a more consistent approach toward food safety by national regulators, EFSA has said.

Today, regulatory representatives will discuss a 10-year plan to finish work on establishing acommon approach to risk assessments throughout Europe. Such a programme will result in morecredibility and coherence of scientific opinions, EFSA argues.

The strategy will focus on coordinating the exchange and collection of scientific data, thesharing of risk assessment practices, the harmonisation of methodologies and communications.

Tomorrow regulators will attempt to kick start the programme with a discussion of possibleprojects on which they hope to focus first. The projects include studying the risks and benefits offolic acid supplementation, establishing a common database of EU food experts, creating co-ordinatedpolicies on emerging risks and marine biotoxins, harmonising data collection, and forming a networkof food consumption database managers.

Regulators will also discuss a consultation paper by EFSA on a proposal to charge fees forprocessing dossiers and studies that food companies must submit to the agency when applying forauthorisations of products or substances used in their processes. EFSA then makes a risk assessmentand issues recommendations for or against the authorisation.

Under option one of the proposals made in the consultation document, the Commission proposes thatall applicants for an authorisation must pay a fee. Option two suggests that only applicants withprofits specifically vested in the authorisation must pay fees. The proposal is currently openfor public consultation until 15 February 2007.

They will also discuss a coordinated approach on folic acid after proposals were made at ameeting in Berlin on 11 to 12 January this year.

Regulators have previously expressed concern that member states have different public healthpolices, and risk management strategies toward folic acid supplmentation as a means to bring downthe occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborns.

At the Berlin meeting regulators also noted that there is a significant variation in theincidence of NTDs across the EU, and called for the establishment of a reliable database of NTDrates. This would allow EFSA to monitor the impact of folic acid supplementation.

They agreed that methods to promote the increased taking of folic acid supplements by sexuallyactive women has been largely unsuccessful. They also agreed that they needed to limit the numbersof fortified foods and to set an upper level for voluntary fortification.

Currently no member state has a policy of mandatory fortification -- but such plans are underactive discussion in some EU member states.

Last year member states signed a commitment with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) toshare scientific information through the organisation. The commitment also involves sharing researchinto common food safety problems. EFSA said that the co-operation will help ensure that research andeffort is not duplicated across the bloc. The network will also lead to the early identification andanalysis of emerging risks, and a more consistent approach toward food safety by nationalregulators.

The commitment made by member states is part of EFSA's attempt to share out risk assessmentresponsibilities with national regulators rather than doing all the work itself. The organisationalso wants a more consistent approach to the collection of statistics on food safety.

The problem of inconsistent reporting standards cropped up in EFSA's first report on theoccurrence of zoonoses across the bloc, published last year. EFSA found that some members collectedthe statistics, others did not. Countries had different policies and attitudes to the statistics.Those that collected statistics sometimes downplayed some diseases while others did not.

EFSA has been working to set standards on the collection of such statistics to make reportingmore uniform across the bloc. It is also looking to collect the statistics through other methods,such as by directly collecting information from the medical profession, for example

In 2004 the 25 EU countries reported a total of 6,860 outbreaks of zoonoses, with 42,447 peopleaffected.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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