An annual report published today on Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) revealed that in 2012 almost 50% of notifications related to food and feed rejections at EU borders due to the risk they posed to food safety. Launched more than 30 years ago, RASFF is an IT tool that facilitates the cross-border flow of information between national food safety authorities and plays a key role in ensuring a high level of food safety for Europe's citizens.
Tonio Borg, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said: “RASFF is now an indispensable tool to respond to, and mitigate, food safety situations in the EU, since vital communication is swiftly exchanged to protect European consumers. Whilst the horsemeat scandal that has been making headline news does not fall within this reporting period, it is important to highlight that thanks to the existence of RASFF, food safety authorities throughout the EU were able to swiftly exchange information. As a result, the products were traced and withdrawn from the market.” To conclude: “the Commission envisages to extend the scope of RASFF to the fight against food fraud".
Results: making imports safer
In 2012 the number of RASFF notifications reached a total of 8,797, representing a 3.9% decrease compared to 2011. Of those, 3,516 were original notifications (40 %) and 5,281 were follow-up notifications (60%). These figures represent a 7.8% decrease in original notifications and a 1.2% decrease in follow-up notifications. A total of 526 alert notifications reporting on serious risks found in products on the market, which marked decrease of 14% compared to 2011.
When such a product is identified, the RASFF informs the third country in question, in order to take corrective actions and prevent a recurrence of the problem. When a serious and persistent problem is detected, the Commission sends a letter to the national authorities of the third country concerned, so that they implement urgent corrective measures such as delisting establishments, blocking exports or intensifying controls.
Origin of the notifications
Of the 3,516 original notifications transmitted in RASFF in 2012, 332 concerned feed (9.4%) and regarding food contact materials, 299 notifications were counted (8.5%). These figures are in line with what was reported in 2011. 2,885 original notifications were related to food.
Extraordinary issues: the example of the methanol poisoning
In September 2012, the Czech food safety authority informed RASFF of persons suffering from methanol poisoning after having consumed "on tap" spirits. In this instance, the adulteration of spirits had devastating consequences and resulted in 36 fatalities. The Czech authority used the RASFF channel to swiftly inform and update its EU partners on its investigations and on the measures it had taken.
Since RASFF is primarily a platform to exchange information on food safety issues, both the Czech methanol and the horsemeat scandal have raised a legitimate need to exchange information on cases of food fraud which is an emerging phenomenon. To address this, the Commission's 5 point action plan aims to close the gaps identified in the wake of the horsemeat scandal includes setting up a procedure for the rapid exchange of information and alerts in cases which may constitute food fraud.
The RASFF network allows for a swift exchange of information between Member States and the Commission when risks to human health are detected in the food and feed chain. All Members of the RASFF (EU-27, Commission, EFSA, ESA, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland) have a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to collectively and efficiently. Thanks to RASFF, many food safety risks had been averted before they could have done any harm to consumers.
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