The report also suggested that countries with large ports or air traffic hubs will bear the burden of the EU’s food security policing role. It added this may explain the Netherlands’ higher than expected contribution to notifications based on its population.
The study by A Petroczi et al analysed thousands of food notifications recorded through the European Union’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) between 2000 and 2009. The team found that the four main countries accounted for 57.7 per cent of all food notifications while the remaining 26 EU countries and Commission Services accounted for the rest.
Introduced under Regulation EC/178/2002, RASFF was put in place to provide food and feed control authorities with an effective tool to exchange information about measures taken responding to serious risks detected in relation to food or feed.
A key aspect of the RASFF system is its categorisation of notifications between: market notifications, border rejections and news notifications – which express varying degrees of concern about health risks arising from a food product if placed on the market.
The paper - Gatekeepers of EU Food Safety – has been published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal. It found a distinct pattern among the four countries responsible for the majority of notifications.
Around half the RASFF information is issued at the borders of these countries said the team. The majority of alerts originate from market control, with the lowest value of 50 per cent for
the UK compared to 87 per cent and 70 per cent for Italy and Germany, respectively. But this was offset somewhat as own company reports in the UK accounted for 12.7 per cent of all alerts, versus 1 per cent in Italy and 2 per cent in Germany. This pattern is also reflected in the number of alerts arising from consumer complaints in each country.
“These results suggest that these four countries are self-sufficient in ensuring food security with heavy reliance on border control, official market control and for the UK, information from companies and consumers,” said the study.
The team noted the low amounts of all notices owing to RASFF notification suggested “system currently operates as a ‘data clearinghouse’ with very little, if any, acute influence on national food alerts / information systems. This category has only been recently introduced and found that it is often replaced by the ‘official market control’ label when a reporting country selects the basis for notification”.
Few French reports
The study also noted that some countries with large populations, such as France, made “relatively few” notifications – and recommended this be explored further. It hypothesised this could arise from less testing but also that perhaps the French found fewer adverse effects from their analyses. Selective reporting and filtering of information on adverse findings were also tabled as possible reasons.
The paper also suggested that notification patterns could be related to whether a country has a major sea or airports that receive large volumes of food imports from outside EC borders. This could help to explain why the Netherlands, with its small population was responsible for 6.5 per cent of all RASFF reports, said Petroczi.
The report found that Border Inspection Points within the EC account for 50 per cent of rejections and that “most faulty foodstuffs subject to border rejection arrive from overseas”. It concluded that “it is logical to assume that major sea ports or air-traffic hubs bear the burden of policing the EU’s food safety and security”.
This trend was likely to continue and even increase – particularly as recent EU-member Poland also has a major port of entry.
Gate keepers of EU food safety: Four states lead on notification patterns and Effectiveness by A. Petróczi, G. Taylor, T. Nepusz, D.P. Naughton.