Temporary rules covering official controls in Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic have been extended for the fourth time. The implementing regulation covers a variety of activities to ensure food and feed law, as well as rules on animal health and welfare and plant health and protection products.

The controls initially came into force in March 2020 and will now last until July 2021. Official controls are done by authorities in EU countries to verify business compliance with legislation.

Member states told the Commission that because of the crisis linked to COVID-19 there are “serious disruptions” in the functioning of their control systems. There are also difficulties to perform official controls and other tasks on certificates and attestations with respect to movements of animals and goods into and within the EU and problems organizing physical meetings with operators and their staff.

Interim changes
The temporary rules were originally planned to end in June 2020, but that was extended to August, then to October 2020, and again in February. The termination is now set for July this year.

It was previously disclosed that 19 countries including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden had taken up the measures to contain risks to human, animal and plant health and animal welfare. They include remote official controls and scanned or electronic documents being accepted for some commodities.

Issues included the 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.

The latest update reintroduces the option to allow people authorized by national authorities to perform official controls and other such tasks. They must follow instructions given by the authority, act impartially and not have any conflicts of interest.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) previously said the flexibility for member states to carry out food checks has included the possibility, under certain conditions, to have staff working for a food business to perform the controls.

“While the need for exceptional, temporary measures may arise in times of crisis, transparent communication and information is needed on the concrete effects of any derogations on the ground. Moreover, it is essential to ensure that any exceptional arrangements last for no longer than necessary and do not put food safety and consumer health at risk,” according to officials.

Online food offers relating to COVID-19
Meanwhile, the EU Commission has updated findings from an operation on online offers and advertising of food related to COVID-19.

National authorities observed that more products sold via the internet are being advertised as being able to cure or prevent infection by coronavirus. This claim is not supported by scientific evidence.

Notified national and cross border cases have hardly changed since an update in December 2020 with the number of notifications recently going down. As of Feb. 12, there are 539 national alerts and 85 cross-border ones.

The operation began in April this past year and the way forward will be discussed with member states in the coming weeks with it planned to end in spring this year.

Action has now been taken in almost 500 cases, with this being in co-operation with e-commerce platforms on nearly 100 occasions. The number of ongoing investigations has fallen from about 300 to 150.

The main outcomes are the offer being taken down or the health claims removed or changed, but injunctions and fines have been issued.

Italy has been involved in more than 200 reports, with Germany’s 61 the next highest followed by Netherlands, France and Czech Republic. Dietetic foods, supplements and fortified foods is the main product category with 585 alerts, while only a handful relate to cocoa preparations, coffee and tea; herbs and spices; honey and royal jelly; or fats and oils.

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