The audit will focus on the decisions and control systems concerning chemical hazards that could put at risk the safety of products consumed in Europe. The report is expected to be published in late 2018.
These substances occur naturally or are added during food production or handling. Examples include cleaning agents, pesticides and certain metals.
While there are checks to ensure chemicals are lawfully used (e.g. pesticides in farming), residues may affect later stages in the supply chain.
Food sector in Europe
Funding from the EU budget on food and feed safety, animal health, animal welfare and plant health for 2014-2020 is €1.89bn.
The food sector in Europe is made up of around 287,000 enterprises with an annual turnover of €1trn.
The added value of industry is estimated at €203bn and the sector provides employment for 4.25 million people.
A public consultation on the transparency and independence of risk assessments and scientific studies following the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) on glyphosate is ongoing until 20 March.
In recent years Europe has been hit by several food scandals including fipronil in eggs, horse meat in processed beef products and E. coli O104:H4 in contaminated sprouts.
Implementation of EU food safety policy involves providing an effective control system, managing relations with third countries and international organisations and conducting science-based risk management.
ECA has selected the Netherlands, Italy and Slovenia for audit visits to see how systems work on the ground.
Auditors will interview staff at the European Commission and EU agencies and consult food industry stakeholders.
Janusz Wojciechowski, the member of the ECA responsible for the audit, said one of the main objectives of the EU is to keep food safe.
“This audit should help consumers to better understand how the EU food safety model works and contribute to their confidence in EU food policy.”
ECA will check whether Member States implement the control system for chemicals in food/feed/live animals and plants as per the legislation and whether the EU’s import conditions can guarantee key requirements in connection with chemicals in food/feed/live animals and plants are respected.
Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 contains general principles and requirements of food and feed law.
Official Controls Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 forms the basis for checks performed to verify compliance.
The Commission recently completed a ‘fitness check’ on the general food law regulation to see if it is fit for purpose.
It was mostly positive but did find shortcomings such as national differences in implementation and enforcement of EU legislative framework and lengthy authorisation procedures slowing down market entry.