In an evaluation of the EU legislative framework for the 2002 General Food Law Regulation (GFLR), the European Commission has found that this framework appears to address most current trends, such as growth, competitiveness and increased globalisation, but falls short in key areas.

In a Commission Staff Working Document, entitled the Refit Evaluation, the EC reports that the GFLR – considered the foundation of EU food and feed policy – does not adequately address food sustainability in general, and food waste in particular.

Conducted to determine if the GFLR is “fit for purpose” and reflects today’s policy trends, the evaluation preceding the document covered the period 2002 to 2013 in the EU’s 28 member states, and focused on regulation and implementation of the food law framework vis-à-vis common definitions, objectives, general principles and requirements in other EU legislation.

Evaluating its overall effectiveness, the document states that EU regulation generally attains its core objectives, particularly in protecting the health and interests of consumers. The assessment found that current food safety levels increased since the adoption of the GFLR, primarily through the implementation of the risk-analysis principle in EU food law.

In addition, the regulation has improved the ability to trace food and feed through the EU’s entire agricultural-food chain.

The assessment also found the creation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guarantees that EU measures reflect current advances in science and research.

The EC, however, identified shortcomings in the GFLR’s effectiveness, such as how the implementation of regulations varies between member states, creating inconsistencies in food and feed safety, and an uneven playing field for businesses.

Another issue appears to be perception. According to the document, the public sees the EFSA as lacking transparency and independence, which undermines the authority of its scientific research.

The assessment found no issue with current levels of regulation, stating that the GFLR has been effective in ensuring food safety and protecting public health, and is not recommending legislation to simplify and reduce oversight of this sector. In addition, the assessment states that by centralising risk analysis, the EU has saved money for national authorities, watchdogs, and operators, and acts as a central pool for scientific research. Nonetheless, the report is less optimistic about the EFSA’s capacity to fully engage all member states.

The most onerous obligations are those associated with information labelling requirements and applications for individual authorisation or exemption. For example, long authorisation procedures slow the entry of feed additives and novel food products into the market. Blame for this, however, does not lie with GFLR requirements, states the EC. Instead, the Commission reports that detailed requirements contained in specific EU food legislation are the main reason for costs and burdens.

The EC identified some areas for simplifying regulation in EU food legislation, such as closing gaps in a few partially harmonised sectors, making authorisation procedures more coherent and efficient while accelerating market access, and offering possible exemptions and simplified rules for micro-enterprises.

In the end, the report concludes that the health and wellbeing of consumers is paramount, and that regulating food laws at the EU level is the best way to ensure protection across the union, as well as a creating a level playing field for all food business operators in the food chain.