Commission Speech (SPEECH/ 09/345 ), 16 July 2009
Conference for the 30 years of RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed)
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this conference which celebrates 30 years of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.
Food safety is an issue of national, European and international significance. It affects all countries and has a substantial impact on both public health and economic activity. European consumers rightly expect and demand the highest level of safety when it comes to the food that they eat.
The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed is a crucial tool for ensuring food safety in Europe.
It has grown over a period of 30 years into a highly valued instrument that its operators use to exchange information, in real-time, about actions they have taken to ensure food and feed safety.
Indeed, RASFF is one of the great success stories of the EU’s integrated approach to food safety, using to maximum effect the power of communication and collaboration.
It provides for the swift exchange of information between member countries and the co-ordination of response actions to food safety threats right across the EU.
The European Commission – together with the countries and organisations belonging to RASFF – continue to work hard in further developing, shaping and fine-tuning the system.
RASFF has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1979.
It was an incident concerning mercury in oranges from Israel that prompted the EU Member States to set up a system to inform each other in cases of a risk to human health following food-related problems.
Since 1979 the number of RASFF notifications has increased steadily – reaching over 7000 in 2008. But this rise in notifications does not mean that our food is becoming less safe.
On the contrary it shows that our protection efforts have continued to improve. Indeed, the increase in notifications demonstrates that RASFF members are communicating more intensively on the actions they take following the notification of food safety incidents.
Of course, our communication tools have become ever more sophisticated over the years. When you think that RASFF started with the telephone, which would mean that the flow of information would depend from the person on the other side of the live actually picking up the call! Then its communication means evolved to telex, then fax and now– as we have seen a few moments ago – the new "RASFF portal" giving citizens access to a searchable RASFF database online.
Another important online tool I should mention, is the "RASFF Window" that gives non-RASFF countries direct access to notifications in which they are mentioned, either as country of origin or as recipient country.
These initiatives bring RASFF up-to-date with cutting-edge technology and help make the RASFF system a source of global inspiration.
Looking to the future, the system is moving into new regions and parts of the world. International co-operation is a priority area for action, for example with other systems such as the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) of the World Health Organization.
This international aspect is crucial. For example, although Europe was only marginally affected by the recent melamine crisis, products containing contaminated milk ingredients were shipped all around the world.
Due to the global scope of the problem, the EU and RASFF needed to collaborate with third countries as well as with regional networks and INFOSAN. This marked a new level of international cooperation in relation to a food safety crisis.
In addition, the RASFF team has led several training sessions organised under the framework of the Commission's Better Training for Safer Food Programme for various regional groups, including ASEAN and MERCOSUR, as well as in Africa and non-EU European countries.
Only last April I had the pleasure of inaugurating such a training seminar in Addis Abeba together with Commissioner Tumusiime, for a number of African countries.
This initiative helps these organisations and countries to develop their own regional alert systems based on the RASFF model. It will allow regional groups to better liaise with INFOSAN and RASFF when global crises occur as well as augmenting the safety of their citizens.
Before I finish, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the RASFF member countries for helping to make RASFF the effective tool and the undoubted success that it has become today.
My gratitude also goes to the European Commission delegations worldwide that facilitate the transmission of notifications to third countries.
I am also very pleased to count on the presence here today, of former colleagues who experienced the very early days of the RASFF.
Overtime, the well-functioning of the system has relied heavily on the continued and excellent collaboration between public authorities, consumers and business operators.
This conference provides an ideal opportunity to exchange knowledge and views; to consider the current role of the RASFF in food safety; and to explore how the system can be further enhanced and improved.
I wish you all a stimulating and fruitful conference.
It is now my pleasure to present a short video about the way the RASFF system works. But before doing that
I am sure you will all join me in wishing the RASSF at least another 30 years of continued success and development.