European Court of Auditors Press Release (ECA/11/13), 16 March 2011
Food safety has become a major political concern in the EU, as public health in countries with industrialised agriculture and highly developed agri-food sectors relies on its effective implementation. Ensuring the highest standards of food safety is thus clearly a political priority in the European Union. Veterinary checks on meat and meat product imports are an important component of the European Union’s (EU) Food Safety policy.
The European Court of Auditors audited the EU Commission’s supervision of the EU system of veterinary checks carried out at border inspection posts (BIPs) for meat imports. The system was put in place through a framework introduced by the so-called 2004 “hygiene package” regulations, which came into force in 2006. The authorities and BIPs of four Member States were visited (France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Romania). Also, Court auditors participated in the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) inspection visits carried out in three Member States (Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and Greece). The FVO's planning and reporting procedures were the subject of close scrutiny, because of the particularly relevant role it plays in the Commission's supervision and control of EU veterinary checks.
The audit concluded that the implementation of the 2004 “hygiene package” is behind schedule and still has to be completed in important regulatory aspects. Moreover, it was found that substantial reductions in the levels of import controls were established in some “Equivalence Agreements” established with third countries. The Court found that such reductions were not supported by reasonable evidence.
The information systems (TRAde Control and Expert System (TRACES) and RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food)) on which veterinary checks on meat imports rely are widely and usefully employed across the EU. However, certain BIPs in three Member States still do not enter all the relevant data. This in particular affects the completeness and reliability of the data captured and the information systems as a whole.
On the basis of its observations, the Court makes recommendations which could help the Commission to increase the effectiveness of the system of veterinary checks for meat imports. These recommendations and further details regarding the audit may be found in the text of the special report available in print and on-line at: www.eca.europa.eu