A recent evaluation by the European Commission has found that the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 (the "GFL Regulation"), the cornerstone of the EU regulatory framework covering the entire food chain 'from farm to fork', remains fit for purpose, but falls short in key areas. As a result, the Commission is now looking for feedback from individuals on some of the shortcomings identified by the evaluation.
Overall, the evaluation found that the GFL Regulation has achieved its core objectives, namely the protection of human health and consumers' interests and the stable functioning of the internal market. It also remains relevant in light of the current trends of growth and competitiveness and increased globalisation.
However, the GFL Regulation was found to be less adequate in addressing new challenges such as food sustainability and, in particular, food waste.
The main findings of the evaluation include:
- Current food safety levels are higher than before the introduction of the GFL Regulation, e.g. decrease in salmonella, food largely free from residues of pesticides and veterinary medicines.
- Better traceability across the entire agri-food chain, with many food business operators, including SMEs, going beyond the traceability requirements under the GFL Regulation.
- Current food crisis management measures have achieved consumer health protection and the efficient management and containment of food safety incidents. Compliance costs for preventing and managing crises are considered fair and justified by food business operators compared to the costs that a full blown food crises would involve. Still, the 2011 E.coli outbreak in sprouts in Germany emphasises the need to continuously re-evaluate the management of food crises.
- The GFL Regulation has contributed to the effective functioning of the internal market by creating a level playing field for all food business operators across the EU and reducing disruptions to trade where problems have arisen. The value of the EU internal trade in the food and drink sector has increased by 72% over the past decade.
- The GFL Regulation has also added to the global recognition of EU product safety standards and to an improved perception regarding the quality of EU products in non-EU markets. This has resulted in the EU being more globally competitive and achieving growth in external trade of 6.3% since 2003.
Nevertheless, the Commission's evaluation of the GFL Regulation also identified the following shortcomings:
- National differences remain between Member States in the implementation and enforcement of the GFL Regulation, although these are not systematic but occur rather on a case-by-case basis.
- Lengthy authorisation processes in some sectors slow down market entry, e.g. feed additives and novel foods can take up to 9 months to be authorised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), thereby affecting innovation potential and competitiveness.
- Problems have been identified regarding the EFSA's capacity to maintain a high level of scientific expertise and to fully engage and co-operate with Member States. There are difficulties in attracting new EFSA panel members with sufficient expertise, budgetary constraints and a lack of representation across Member States on the EFSA's management board.
- Due to strict confidentiality rules to protect legitimate business information, there is a perceived lack of transparency and independence regarding the EFSA's work amongst the general public.
An external evaluation of the EFSA's operation and governance structure was launched in 2017, which will hopefully address the specific issues of concern regarding the EFSA's independence and transparency outlined above.
Furthermore, following the evaluation of the GFL Regulation, the Commission has launched a public consultation on EU risk assessment in the food sector. This aims to gather feedback on the transparency and independence of the EU risk assessment system, risk communication and the governance of the EFSA. Interested food sector participants can provide feedback by completing the Commission's online questionnaire here.