The Czech Republic has rejected a request from the European Commission to remove extraordinary veterinary measures on beef from Poland following detection of Salmonella.

Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis sent a letter to Czech authorities on Feb. 25 asking for measures to be lifted by the end of this week. Now this has been denied, EU member states will vote next week on whether the EC should order an end to the measures.

The European Commission was informed by the Czech Republic that Salmonella was found in beef from Poland and is in contact with both national authorities.

A notification on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) on Feb. 21 from the Czech Republic shows Salmonella Enteritidis in chilled beef from Poland that was also distributed to Slovakia. Another notification on Feb. 27 listed the same pathogen strain in frozen chicken legs from Poland, again distribution included Slovakia.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic also put in place measures around beef from Poland. It is using lab tests to check such products for the presence of bacteria and residues of veterinary drugs before release to the market.

Importer must arrange testing
The State Veterinary Administration (SVS) of the Czech Republic ordered the withdrawal of 700 kilograms of beef from Poland following the Salmonella finding on Feb. 20 and put in place the exceptional measures that all Polish beef must be tested in an accredited lab at a cost to the importer before it is placed on the market.

“Each piece of beef from Poland to be imported will be required to be examined by the importer before being placed on the market for health protection. We need to effectively protect the health of consumers,” said Miroslav Toman, Czech minister of agriculture.

Czech Republic officials informed the EC last week of its extraordinary veterinary measures for systematic controls of beef from Poland for the presence of Salmonella. The Commission has examined the measures and concluded they appear disproportionate to the incident.

EC spokeswoman Anca Paduraru said the measure considered to be disproportionate is the burden being imposed on operators.

“Czech Republic can take measures, they can impose controls, there is European legislation that allows them to take the measures needed to protect itself. This is a prerogative of the national authorities, no-one stops them from taking measures that are proportionate,” she told Food Safety News.

“The problem is they are imposing a burden on the Czech operators. According to our information the measure taken by SVS would consist of an obligation to the Czech operators who receive beef from Poland to arrange for laboratory testing of all batches of this product for the presence of Salmonella. So the Czech operators have to run the tests themselves, so it imposes a burden which is not reimbursed by the state and it takes time and money.

“It is not the Czech authorities that are doing the checks at the border or randomly they are imposing a burden on the Czech operators. But this measure imposed to operators is considered to be disproportionate to the incident and it can create disturbance in the trade on the internal market in the EU. Czech operators may stop buying beef from Poland. The intention should be to protect the consumer and this is the intention of EU legislation to ensure food safety and the protection of consumers.”

Paduraru said discussions are ongoing and she could not pre-empt what will happen next.

Secret filming of Polish abattoir
It is the latest dispute relating to Poland and meat. An abattoir was found to have slaughtered sick cows and sent the meat to 13 EU countries last month.

A team of European Commission auditors went to Poland Feb. 4-8 to assess the situation of official controls carried out on the ground. The report was sent to Polish authorities for comments on Feb. 21 to be finalized and published by the end of March. A general assessment of the Polish control system for meat was already scheduled for March.

A presentation was made by the Polish chief veterinary officer to the Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) Committee on Biological Safety of the Food Chain on the incident last month.

“The preliminary findings, presented to the member states at a standing committee on 11 February, point to a number of shortcomings in the implementation of the official control system in the implicated slaughterhouse. At the request of the Commission, the Polish chief veterinary officer presented a state of play to the member states,” said Paduraru.

“The Commission has written to the Polish authorities asking for the presentation of an ‘action plan’ to remedy the shortcomings identified during the audit. We also expect a monthly report on the audits carried out and the actions taken. The Polish chief veterinary officer wrote back and we are currently analyzing the reply.”

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