The European Commission is to give member states more flexibility to do official controls in the food supply chain because of coronavirus.

The Commission leaders say the crisis relating to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) represents an “exceptional and unprecedented” challenge for the capacity of member states to conduct official controls and other official activities in line with EU legislation.

There are restrictions in many countries on the movement of people to protect public health. Member states have told the Commission that as a consequence of this, the ability to send staff for official controls, as required by EU Regulation (EU) 2017/625, has been seriously impacted.

Some nations have expressed difficulties in performing official controls and other activities which require the physical presence of control staff. This includes clinical examination of animals, certain checks on products of animal origin, plant products and on food and feed of non-animal origin, and testing of samples in official laboratories designated by member states.

What’s changed?
A regulation has been adopted with temporary measures to address serious disruption in the functioning of control systems in EU countries.

The measure is initially limited to two months and will be reviewed based on experience of its application. Countries that wish to use it have to inform the Commission and other member states.

Veterinary and phytosanitary controls on animals, plants, food and feed may be carried out using people authorized by national authorities. This applies where staff of authorities cannot reach the place where the control should be carried out because of movement restrictions aimed at preventing the community spread of coronavirus.

Labs specially designated by authorities can be used where normally used official labs are not available for analyses, testing or diagnoses.

For border checks, electronically submitted documents may be accepted for completing checks if the person responsible commits to provide the original as soon as possible. Physical meetings with operators may be replaced by other means of communication.

Copa-Cogeca, FoodDrinkEurope and EuroCommerce had previously asked that borders remain open for people and freight to ensure that food systems could continue to function throughout the health crisis and confinement measures.

The groups represent farmers and agri-cooperatives, food and drink manufacturers, wholesale distributors and retail outlets.

The Commission has been working with member states on the flow for goods, including agri-food products, by creating “Green Lanes” based on designated border crossing points that will have checks that will not exceed 15 minutes.

Scottish action
Meanwhile, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has put in place contingency measures in relation to official controls for food.

Joe FitzPatrick, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, has allowed local authorities to deviate from parts of the Food Law Code of Practice. Measures could last up to four months.

No planned interventions will be done at low risk primary production sites except for dairy farms supplying raw milk to make raw milk cheese. Care facilities including hospitals, care homes, nurseries, and childminders will not be inspected.

Planned interventions at approved establishments and businesses such as exporters, manufacturers of foods for specified groups and of high risk foods will be based on a paper audit and physical inspection if concerns are raised. Or, issues will be followed up at a later date.

Intelligence driven interventions at food businesses should continue where possible. This includes information that suggests fraudulent activity or imminent risk to public health. So, consumer complaints, credible allegations of food poisoning or failed samples of a serious nature that suggest fraud or health risk.

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