EU loses patience with UK over differences in irradiated food regulations

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food irradiation European union Food standards agency

European Union officials have issued a second warning to the UK over its failure to come into line with rules governing imports of irradiated food from third countries.

The reprimand came from the Commission after it said the current UK rules on food irradiation were out of step with European law as laid out in Directive 1999/2/EC. The regulation sets out that EU countries can only accept food and food ingredients treated with irradiation from outside the bloc from processing plants that appear on an approved list drawn up by Brussels.

However, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) told that it believed it was already complying with European law and that new regulations, due to come into force at the end of next month, would resolve the situation entirely. A FSA spokesman stressed ther were no food safety implications.

Legal anomoly

The issue appears to have been caused by legal anomaly as the 1990 Food (Control of Irradiation) Regulations allow the UK to "recognise" food irradiation facilities in third countries (non-EU countries), even if they are not approved by the European Community. The UK has said it would not do this because “to do so would be in breach of Article 9 of Directive 1999/2/EC”, said a FSA consultation paper on the new UK law that was issued earlier this year.

The draft paper said food that has been irradiated in a third country for sale in the UK “must have been irradiated at a facility that has been approved by the Community” and that “current regulations are being operated in a way that ensures that the Directive is not breached and no third country food irradiation facilities have been separately”.

Losing patience

While the Commission recognized the UK is working to address the issue, it appears its patience with the national government is wearing thin after sending an initial letter more than two years ago urging it to solve the problem. Officials in Brussels have now fired off a further warning shot in order to ensure swift compliance.

“The Commission recognises that the United Kingdom has so far not used this possibility and is in the process of amending its legislation in the field of food irradiation,” it said in a statement.

“However, since a letter of formal notice was sent already in March 2007 and since there have been considerable delays in the process leading to the adoption of new regulations in the UK, it was necessary to issue a reasoned opinion to ensure expedited compliance.

The next step would be to take the UK Government to the European Court of Justice, although such action is considered highly unlikely.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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