In February 2005, the European Union EU issued new guidelines to facilitate the traceability of food products across all member states. This follows the passing of the General Food Law, which entered into force on 1 January 2005. The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, consisting of representatives of the Member States, agreed on the common guidance document to make harmonised implementation in all Member States easier for everyone.
The requirements covered in the guidance document include traceability of food products, withdrawal of dangerous food products from the market, operator responsibilities and requirements applicable to imports and exports. It is welcomed by both the food industry and consumer groups, it is putting considerable pressure on food manufacturers, especially private-label processors.
"The new requirements in the EU food law include important elements like rules on traceability and the withdrawal of dangerous food products from the market," said Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.
"Their effective implementation will benefit public health and make trade between EU Member States easier. The guidelines address many of the practical issues raised in recent months by food and feed business operators and will help both businesses and national authorities to implement the new requirements."
The mandatory traceability requirement applies to food, animal feed, food-producing animals and all types of food chain operators without exception. That means from the farming sector to processing, transport, storage, distribution and retail to the consumer. The guidance document lays down detailed implementing rules for operators in this respect The name, address of producer, nature of products and date of transaction must be systematically registered within each operator's traceability system and this information must be kept for a period of five years and on request, it must immediately be made available to the competent authorities.
The drive towards complete supply chain traceability in Europe is broad based. In addition to the legislation, retail giants are beginning rolling out radio frequency identification RFID mandates to all their suppliers or, like Tesco, the largest in the UK, are working strongly with supplier to solve the technical problems without mandates. Carrefour in France and Metro in Germany are among those involved in RFID pallet and case tagging on a major scale and the drug companies are extensively trailing RFID for item level tagging. See www.idtechex.com for the reports "Item level RFID" and "Food and Livestock Traceability".
Retailers, as well as legislators, are leaning heavily on manufacturers to install technology that will guarantee complete traceability. The retailers gain most from this in economic terms but all have to tighten traceability just to defend their businesses against bioterrorism, inadvertent food contamination such as the recent Sudan B dye and infection such as the threat of avian influenza. The new EU guideline specifically defines the criteria that would trigger the withdrawal or recall of a dangerous product from the market. Situations where operators are firmly required to inform competent authorities of this withdrawal are also specified.