NEWS

Operation ‘clean plate’ for EU’s dining tables

The European Union has decided to clean its citizens’ plates of every kind of dietary risk. Its bureau for food and veterinary issues has drawn up a schedule of inspections of primary and secondary production in the second half of 2002. These inspections will not be the same in all member states, but will chiefly focus on sectors having the most problems. They also include third countries that export specific foodstuffs to the EU. The bureau is also carrying out a number of emergency inspections wherever it deems it necessary or where charges have been made. Most (82 percent) of these inspections scheduled have to do with food safety. Greece is to be visited by more inspectors than any other member state. A team is to check on the monitoring methods for bovine spongiform encephalopathy («mad cow» disease), the implementation of the program to monitor animal diseases, food hygiene, meat and traces of pesticides. In Greece, as in all member states since the reappearance of mad cow disease in France and subsequently in most European states, a BSE monitoring system has been in place that requires the checking of all beef cattle aged over 24 months, when slaughtered. Only one case has been found in Greece, which the EU believes is because the monitoring program has not been properly implemented. As the director of the General Directorate for Health and Consumer Protection, Robert Coleman, said during a visit to Greece, the origin of the cow found with the disease is not known. «Personally I do not believe it is the only one,» he said. A major issue for the EU is the implementation of the tracing system, whereby products and their ingredients are checked for place of origin. Greece has made little progress in this sector. The EU has repeatedly pointed to Greece’s inability to fight animal diseases for which programs have been implemented. The Greek authorities claim that as the country is surrounded by many third countries where similar programs are not implemented, it is more susceptible to animal diseases. Nor is food hygiene, also examined in a recent inspection in Greece, considered at all satisfactory, particularly regarding meat, with illegal abattoirs operating in many parts of the country and problems at the Rendi meat market. As for pesticide traces, levels above the acceptable limits were found in 7 percent of samples tested, and traces within the limits were found in 20 percent of samples. Keeping an eye on what we eat The Food and Veterinary Office that carries out checks and inspections in member states was set up in 1997 within the framework of the General Directorate for Health and Consumer Protection, based in Dublin. Its director general is Robert Coleman, who reports to European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne. The bureau was set up as an independent unit after the «mad cow» scandal that shook consumer confidence in food products as well as in the European economy overall. Over 20 percent of the checks carried out in its first year were for BSE. According to a Eurobarometer survey, over a quarter of Europeans believe that food safety is not as good as it should be. Only 11 percent have faith in the information on food safety provided by both the EU and their own governments. The bureau has the task of restoring the EU’s reputation in this regard, holding a series of regular inspections in member states and third countries that supply the EU with primary and other produce. There are five categories of inspections: animal products, vegetable products, banned substances, animal health, the proper treatment of animals, and plant health. During the first half of this year there were 119 inspections, 77 percent of which were related to food safety and 9 percent to animal health. Also, 59 percent of inspections were in member states, the remainder in other countries.