The European Commission’s health and safety unit has published findings from audits looking at checks on fishery products in Australia, Morocco, and Finland.

A desk assessment of Australian controls to verify exports of fish products met EU requirements was done in October 2022. Exports to the EU in 2021 included fish fillets, other fresh, chilled or frozen fish and crustaceans. A list of species exported includes those which can accumulate ciguatera.

The audit found Australia has a sound legal framework, robust authority structure and legal powers that allow the control system to support health attestations in the EU official certificates issued for export of fishery products.

“Nonetheless, the assessment also identified some shortcomings, notably the absence of official controls over fishery products, which impacts on the competent authority’s ability to attest reliably to the guarantees on this point in the EU model official certificate,” said DG Sante.

Australia and the European Union are currently negotiating a free trade agreement.

Some national requirements are different than those in EU regulation. For example, limits for dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have not been established, but there are limits for products exported to Europe in the relevant EU standard. Establishments in the EU-list are subject to controls with a frequency ranging from once to twice a year, depending on the risk category.

Australia has not implemented an official sampling program for the sector. It does not test fish products or carry out official controls covering organoleptic examinations, freshness indicators, histamine, parasites nor microbiological tests. Auditors said it relies on findings from checks carried out by food companies.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said it was developing an official control plan to meet the requirements. The proposed plan will be submitted to EU officials in May 2023. Once finalized, it will be implemented from July 2023 with existing sampling programs.

Morocco improvements
An audit in Morocco in September 2022 followed up on recommendations made during a previous visit in 2017.

From January 2018 to 2022, members of the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) network issued 84 notifications for fishery products from Morocco, mostly due to parasites and cold chain problems.

Gaps were identified concerning the controls over freezer vessels, in relation to additives and the timing of controls.

Auditors said some problems were detected which impact Morocco’s ability to consistently provide all guarantees required by the EU official certificate when exporting fishery products to Europe.

“However, the swift reaction of the competent authority in presenting measures to immediately address several of these identified deficiencies, limit the impact on the overall suitability of the official control system in place to deliver the required guarantees,” they added.

Finland findings
The audit in Finland in March 2022 found the official control system was organized and supported by written instructions and guidance but 13 recommendations were made.

Shortcomings concerned adherence to planned inspection frequency, which was linked to limited staff resources, and the assessment and grading of deficiencies resulting in an overly positive evaluation of problems identified during official controls.

“There is a clear trend of grading the deficiencies observed during the controls in an overly positive way. This, together with the observation of significant deficiencies not having been identified in previous control visits, call into question both the reliability and efficiency of the controls as well as the confidence that may be had in the smiley scores assigned to operators,” said the audit report.

Ruokavirasto (Finnish Food Authority) is organizing training around HACCP, controls at primary production and checks of fishery products. The agency said it would provide more details to regional agencies about evaluating data from controls and monitoring corrective actions and grades.

Concerns were also raised about a lack of histamine testing in control plans. Data provided by an official laboratory testing fish products for histamine showed that during 2019 to 2021 the lab analyzed 11 samples as part of investigations into suspected food poisoning. Five had values well above the limits in EU regulation.

Finnish officials promised an update to guidelines for histamine monitoring and to fishery product control instructions. Ruokavirasto is also planning sampling projects for histamine and parasites as part of monitoring work in 2023.

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