Documents considered by the Committee on 27 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


9   EU veterinary checks for meat imports

(32614)

7968/11

Special Report No 14/2010 by the European Court of Auditors: The Commission's management of the system of veterinary checks for meat imports following the 2004 hygiene legislation reforms

Legal base
Deposited in Parliament23 March 2011
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 4 April
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background

9.1  Because imported meat products can transmit disease to both humans and livestock, the EU regulations on food safety — which were introduced in 2004 following the various health crises in the 1990s — include a number of provisions addressing this issue. In particular, veterinary checks on imports into the EU and in the corresponding exporting countries are carried out by national authorities, with the cost being borne mostly by operators (and ultimately the consumer), whilst EU expenditure consists essentially of administration by the relevant Commission Directorate (in particular, its Food and Veterinary Office (FVO)), plus the training national inspectors. In addition, the EU budget has financed the setting-up and running of two information systems — the Trade Control and Export System (TRACES), responsible for monitoring imports of products of animal origin, and the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF).

9.2  The basic principle underlying the EU system of veterinary checks is that imported meat products must satisfy sanitary requirements at least equivalent to those applying to EU internal production. Thus, imported products must come from an establishment which has been approved by the Commission, which is located in an authorised third country, and which has been certified by the exporting country's veterinary authorities as meeting EU requirements. In addition, "equivalence agreements" with third countries enable the EU to accept those countries' control systems as being equivalent to its own. Every consignment of goods then has to be presented to a Commission-approved border inspection post, where it is inspected by the veterinary authorities of the Member State concerned; and, once accepted, the consignment may move freely between Member States. Verification that Member States apply these provisions correctly is the responsibility of the FVO.

The current document

9.3  Since the cost to the EU budget of health crises — which can in principle result from poor implementation of veterinary checks — can be particularly high, the European Court of Auditors has sought in this Special Report to examine whether:

  • the revision of the EU regulations has been completed;
  • the Commission ensures that the relevant information systems are performing effectively;
  • the FVO makes sure that national systems for managing veterinary checks are working properly;
  • the Commission carries out its coordination role between Member States, and makes general evaluations of the sanitary check system for meat imports.

9.4  The Court carried out the audit in 2009 by examining the FVO's activities, visiting the responsible authorities and border inspection posts in four Member States, and participating in a number of FVO audits, including one in the UK. It also collected information on how the Commission takes into account the interests of the various stakeholders.

9.5  The Court observes that meat consumption and imports have been increasing, and currently account for 3.6% of EU consumption. However, it adds that there is in practice no evidence that any of the major health crises suffered by the EU in the past 15 years has been due to shortcomings in the performance of veterinary checks, in that the incidence of diseases has either been internal to the EU or connected with illegal movements or failure to apply the appropriate measures.

9.6  As regards the specific questions addressed in the audit, the Court concludes that the implementation of the hygiene package has been delayed, and has still to be completed in certain important regulatory aspects, adding that substantial reductions in the levels of import controls have been accepted in some equivalence agreements with third countries which were not supported by reasonable justifying evidence. On the other hand, it says that the information systems (TRACES and RASFF) on which veterinary checks on meat imports rely are widely and usefully employed across the EU (although certain border inspection posts in three Member States still do not enter all the relevant data, thus affecting the completeness and reliability of the information systems as a whole).

9.7  The Court also notes that the Commission continuously supervises the veterinary checks on meat imports through its FVO, but that it is to take further initiatives in order to detect shortcomings. These include:

  • completing the regulatory framework of the hygiene package, and consolidating it in a codified and user-friendly manner;
  • further developing TRACES and RASFF;
  • providing further guidelines and the performance indicators necessary for implementing an EU strategy for veterinary checks and for determining whether the objectives of the hygiene package have been achieved;
  • further improving the risk assessment models used by the FVO for its planning of audit work;
  • ensuring that Member States overcome any weaknesses detected in meat import veterinary checks in the shortest reasonable period of time.

The Government's view

9.8  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 4 April 2011, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Jim Paice) simply notes that the report contains no legislative proposals and has no direct policy implications for the UK. However, he adds that the Commission is reviewing EU rules for imports of meat, and that the report will help to inform the UK's response to any subsequent regulatory proposals.

Conclusion

9.9  As is customary in Reports of this kind, the Court of Auditors has identified a large number of detailed technical points. It has also reached some pertinent conclusions about the extent to which the package of legislative measures adopted in 2004 has been implemented, including those aspects where more still needs to be done. Because the Report deals with an important area in terms of both human and animal health, we think it right to draw it to the attention of the House, but we do not believe it raises any issues requiring further consideration. We are therefore clearing it.





 
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