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Many paths, one goal: Safer food

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The BVL carries out many tasks, with which it contributes to safer food and thus strengthens consumer health protection in Germany.

Food can be manufactured and sold in Germany without special permission as long as it is safe and meets the general standards set by legislation. Manufacturers, importers, carriers and retailers are responsible for the food they place on the market. They must ensure and document the safety and quality of their food through in-house control mechanisms. The law clearly defines what constitutes food: Food (or foodstuffs) means any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be ingested by humans (Article 2 Sentence 1 Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 abridged).

Food is made safer through controls, monitoring and information exchange

An important building block for safe food is official food and veterinary control. Wherever food is produced, processed or placed on the market, the competent authorities carry out regular controls and if suspicions are raised, take samples for examination in official laboratories. In Germany, this task is assumed by the competent authorities of the federal states.

The consumer protection or food ministries in the federal states coordinate checks by the municipal competent authorities. The food and veterinary control authorities in the cities and municipalities check businesses and take samples which are examined their laboratories. The ingredients are analysed, tested for micro-organisms or residues from plant protection products or heavy metals. If businesses breach the current regulations, they are generally retested to check that the shortcoming has been dealt with. Products which pose a risk to health, must be removed from the market. Businesses in serious breach of the legislation face fines and criminal proceedings.

Given the world-wide flow of goods and the integration of Germany in the European Union, it is necessary to establish uniform food control standards all over the country. The BVL prepares coordinated control programmes which are then carried out by the federal states. The BVL gathers and evaluates the data acquired in the process and reports this information to the European Commission and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Monitoring

Plant protection product residues, heavy metals and other organic and inorganic substances in and on foodstuffs can pose a risk to consumer health. In order to obtain representative data on the occurrence of these unwanted substances, the BVL carries out monitoring jointly with the federal states. Sampling and analysis is undertaken according to standardised procedures in order to obtain comparable results. Such monitoring enables the federal government and federal states to recognise possible risks and to highlight trends in the contamination of foodstuffs. It shows what quantities of these substances consumers are exposed to through their diet and provides a sound resource basis through which the federal government and the players in the legislation process of the EU can make sound decisions in the area of food safety.

Data converges at the BVL

The federal states send their data from food monitoring to the BVL. As well as providing information about foods tested, the data also includes testing methods and other information. Furthermore, data is made available to the BVL on which substances the food was tested for and which of these substances were found. The legal basis for this procedure is the "General Administrative Provision Data Exchange" (AVV DatA). The BVL registers and checks the data from the federal states, maintains the datasets in databases and distributes or publishes the relevant details.

Official collection of sampling and analysis methods

Findings from food control can only be used and compared when sampling and analysis are carried out in accordance with uniform procedures, which have been statistically checked and standardised in the collaborative trials or have already been bindingly defined. The BVL publishes new standards and procedures in the "Official collection of sampling and analysis methods".

Making food of animal origin safer

Residues from veterinary drugs, metabolites from mould and environmental contaminants as well as zoonotic agents can pose a serious risk to health and are undesirable in or banned from foods of animal origin. Meat, milk, eggs and honey as well as samples from live animals are therefore tested for residues in laboratories using state-of-the-art equipment.

National Residue Control Plan for Control of Food of Animal Origin

The National Residue Control Plan (NRCP) is a programme implemented by the BVL with the federal states for control of food of animal origin. Each year the BVL prepares the National Residue Control Plan and coordinates the competent authorities of the federal states who implement the plan under own responsibility. The federal states report the results of the testing to the BVL. Data is collected, checked and evaluated at the BVL. The summarised data is reported to the European Commission and published on the internet.

Zoonoses monitoring

Under zoonoses monitoring, representative data on the occurrence of zoonotic agents in food, feed and live animals is collected, evaluated and published. The investigation results of zoonoses monitoring by the federal states are collected, analysed and published by the BVL in a report on the findings of annual zoonoses monitoring. Each year the BfR draws up the nationally applicable zoonoses sampling plan, the specific standards on the zoonotic agents to be tested for, the animal populations to be monitored, the stages of the food chain to be monitored, the number of samples to be tested, the sampling methods and analysis procedures to be used, in agreement with the federal states.

Reference laboratory: Uniform investigations

A network of reference laboratories was created to ensure uniform performance in official laboratories in the EU. The reference laboratory at the BVL is both a national reference laboratory and one of four EU reference laboratories. The reference laboratory coordinates and supports the official testing laboratories of the federal states. The BVL makes available to other laboratories new standards and methods developed by the reference laboratory and gives recommendations on the implementation of Community legislation.

Transparency concerning residues of plant protection products

Residues of plant protection products in and on food can carry risks for human health. Therefore, maximum residue levels which must not be exceeded is set for each authorised plant protection product in food. Importers and businesses are required to ensure compliance with these maximum levels through own controls. Compliance with the legal rules is checked during official food control. The BVL reports to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) through the National Report on Plant Protection Product Residues and publishes the results on the internet.

Rapid warning about risky foods

If food and feed is contaminated or poses other risks to the consumer, this must be dealt with immediately. In the European Union, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) ensures the quick exchange of information between competent authorities. The contact point for the RASFF in Germany is the BVL. The BVL counteracts the occurrence of crisis at the earliest possible point in time through the constant monitoring of problems concerning food and feed and by initiating appropriate measures.

When there’s a crisis to be dealt with: BVL as the situation centre

In the event of a crisis concerning food, the BVL assumes the duties of crisis management. A situation centre is set up in the BVL for the "Food safety crisis management unit", which can be convened by Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The BVL is well equipped in the event of a crisis: Set procedures ensure, in the event of a crisis, that information is exchanged smoothly between the authorities of the federal government and the federal states.

This is how it functions: Administrative provisions

General administrative provisions are rules which are issued within an administrative organisation by superordinate entities to subordinate authorities. They define workflows and ensure uniform implementation of the applicable law, for example the implementation of EU Regulations in Germany. The BVL prepares general administrative provisions for the area of food safety, the aim of which is to achieve coordinated conduct of all competent authorities at federal government and federal state level. Through the "Consumer protection and food safety" and "Official Control" committees, chaired by the BVL, the federal government and federal states elaborate and discuss new and current general administrative provisions.

Certificates of exemption and general dispositions

Anyone wanting to place foodstuffs on the market which do not meet the food law provisions in Germany, has the option of applying to the BVL for a certification of exemption. If such a product is already legally on the market in one of the Member States of the European Union, the BVL can grant a general permission after a technical and legal check. This means the product can be placed on the German market.

Diet foods and novel food

Diet foods must meet strict criteria so that they meet the health requirements of specific groups of people with special nutritional requirements, for example babies or diabetics. For this reason it is necessary that the products which are on the market are known to the food monitoring authorities. Certain diet foods, such as diet foods for particular medical purposes or diet foods for pregnant or breastfeeding women, must be reported to the BVL when they are first placed on the market at the latest. The BVL passes this information on to the competent state authorities and to the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. This means products can be monitored more effectively. Novel foods are subject to a uniform safety inspection in the European Union. As the competent food assessment body, the BVL accepts appropriate applications for authorisation and carries out the first test.

International inspections

The EU carries out inspections in Germany to ensure compliance with the Community food law. Third countries, such as the United States, also check exporting businesses in Germany for their compliance with the rules which apply to exports. In Germany these inspections are organised and supervised by the BVL. Complaints regarding transnational food trade are also coordinated by the BVL.

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© 2018 Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety