The European Commission (EC) has introduced a “landmark package to modernize, simplify and strengthen the agri-food chain in Europe” by reducing the number of food and feed regulations from 70 pieces to five. In addition to addressing regulatory enforcement and funding, the proposed package describes new procedures, preventative measures and risk-based controls related to plant and animal health, including plant reproductive materials. Among other things, the recommendations discuss (i) combining animal health regulations under a single piece of legislation focused on preventative efforts, livestock traceability and disease prioritization; (ii) upgrading the plant health regime to increase surveillance of both domestic and imported crops; and (iii) implementing “more simplified and flexible rules for the marketing of seeds and other plant reproductive material… to ensure productivity, adaptability and diversity of Europe’s crop production.”

To finance these goals and improve accountability, the new rules would change the way member states fund official controls by requiring governments to recoup the full cost of those activities and to use a risk-based approach when allocating their resources. Under the new framework, “the current system of fees to finance the effective implementation of these controls within a sustainable system along the whole chain will be extended to other sectors within the chain which are currently not charged.” The new regulations would also compel member states to regularly conduct unscheduled “anti-fraud checks” as part of their national control plans and “to ensure that financial penalties in these cases are set at truly dissuasive amounts” and “offset the economic advantage sought by the perpetrator of the violation.”

“Europe has the highest food safety standards in the world. However, the recent horsemeat scandal has shown that there is room for improvement, even if no health risk emerged,” said Health and Consumer Commissioner Toni Borg in a May 6, 2013, EC press release. “Today’s package of reforms comes at an opportune moment as it shows that the system can respond to challenges; it also takes on board some of the lessons learned. In a nutshell, the package aims to provide smarter rules for safer food.” See Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2013; U.K. FSA News Release, May 8, 2013.