A report on the website Foodqualitynews.com notes that, according to the European Commission, “the system of controls at EU borders on fruit and vegetable imports from non-EU countries is protecting consumers from potential food safety risks.” The system involves routine controls, as well as higher levels of controls on products perceived to carry risks. In 2013, with “over 100,000 consignments subject to reduced controls… 11,808 were sampled for laboratory analysis”, 11% more than in 2012; and 483 or 4.1% “were found in breach of EU legislation”, down from 7.1% of consignments sampled for laboratory analysis in 2012.
For ACP countries, higher levels of controls were applied to products perceived to carry particular risks. In 2013, increased inspections were carried out on Kenyan exports of peas and beans and Nigerian dried beans, while the level of controls on exports of aubergines and bitter melon from the Dominican Republic was reduced. The level of border controls on particular products from particular exporting countries is subject to review every 3 months. This can lead to dramatic increases or decreases in the levels of inspections carried out on these products.
In 2013, significantly fewer contraventions of EU legislation were found in samples of non-EU fruit and vegetable imports subject to laboratory analysis for food safety purposes than in 2012 (around 35% fewer), despite the increase in the number of consignments subjected to laboratory tests.
This suggests that exports of fruit and vegetable products to the EU are proving increasingly successful in meeting EU food safety requirements, despite the increasingly strict standards being applied (e.g. on maximum pesticide residue levels – see Agritrade article ‘ New EU maximum residue levels hit Kenyan vegetable exports’, 28 April 2013).
This raises the question of whether the level of routine sampling being undertaken is justified – a particularly important question in those EU member states that are moving towards full recovery of the costs of official controls from producers whose consignments are being inspected.
EU importers’ associations have for some time been calling for official controls to use sampling procedures more closely based on actual risk, In order to reduce the overall costs of the inspections. This has often been linked to calls for greater recognition of the effectiveness of private standards in ensuring compliance with the basic food safety requirements that underpin official controls (see Agritrade article ‘ UK fresh produce inspection charges increased’, 23 April 2012).
This is an important commercial issue, since securing increased compliance with EU requirements often involves substantial new investments. There would appear to be a need to recognise the progress being made by third countries in reducing the necessity for inspections by improvements in quality and safety.