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Crisis Management

Cooperation of the Federal Government and the Laender (federal states) in food and feed crises and the Task Force for Food and Feed Safety at the BVL

Germany’s federal political system has defined food control and clarification of food-related outbreaks of disease as responsibilities of the Laender (federal states). A disease outbreak involving several Laender, however, may require a joint approach and supra-regional co-ordination. In such case, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) can provide assistance. Depending on the severity and dimension of the crisis, there are various bodies of action that will be convened to deal with it.

Agreement of co-operation

After a food-related EHEC epidemic and a dioxin scandal in 2011, the Federal Government and the Laender came to the conclusion that their co-operation for health protection of consumers was to be organised as efficiently as possible. To that end, the 8th Conference of the Ministers of Consumer Protection (VSMK) on 12 – 14 September 2012 concluded an agreement entitled „Vereinbarung über die Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Bund und den Ländern in Krisenfällen im Bereich der Lebensmittel- und Futtermittelsicherheit“ (“Agreement on the co-operation between the Federal Government and the Laender in cases of crises in the field of food and feed”, in short: Government-Laender Agreement on Crisis Management). The agreement sets the frame for fast action, efficient co-ordination of the necessary measures, and safe clarification of future crises

The Crisis Council and the Crisis Unit

The agreement provides for temporary establishment of different bodies of crisis management on both the political and the professional level in situations of crisis.

The Crisis Council is the highest body, representing the Laender Ministers in charge of food and feed safety and chaired by a representative of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) as the competent Federal Government Ministry. The Crisis Council provides the basic guidelines on how to deal with the crisis, and communicates the crisis in public and on the political level. The Crisis Council may decide to set up a Task Force. If it does, the council defines its tasks and composition at the same time.

The Crisis Council can also convene a Crisis Unit. The Crisis Unit includes the heads of departments of the respective Laender ministries competent for food and feed safety, and is also chaired by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The Crisis Unit guarantees efficient co-ordination of action by the authorities involved in the crisis management. The Crisis Unit has its office at the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL).

Agents of crisis management within the competence of the BMELZoomAgents of crisis management within the competence of the BMEL. © BVL

The Food and Feed Safety Task Force

The Task Force for Food and Feed Safety is a body of crisis management of both the Laender and the Federal Government which may be convened by the Crisis Council in complex situations of crisis concerning several Laender. Depending on the situation, different kinds of expertise are requested, and the Task Force will be composed accordingly. The experts will come from the Laender afflicted by the disease outbreak, and from Federal Authorities concerned with the matter technically. The Task Force, too, is established at the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. The Task Force’s tasks include working out recommendations for approaches to clarifying the disease outbreak, and for elimination of sources and rectification of causes. That is, the aim is to identify contaminated foods and sources of contamination as quickly as possible, and thus stop the outbreak of disease.

A Task Force was first set up in 2011, during an EHEC disease outbreak. As a consequence of that food crisis, the conditions of convening a task force were clearly defined in a Crisis Management Agreement between the Federal Government and the Laender (cf. above: Bund-Länder-Vereinbarung zum Krisenmanagement). A practical implementation of the agreement came only two weeks after it was unanimously adopted by the Consumer Protection Ministers’ Conference, when the Task Force was convened again as the East German Laender saw an outbreak of gastroenteritis caused by norovirus in deep-frozen strawberries from China. In that crisis, too, the expert knowledge concentrated at the Task Force helped to identify the cause and clarify the outbreak.

Food or feed crises often have a context of highly complex supply chains. In such cases, the Task Force performs a supply chains analysis, which is suitable to trace back contaminated foods, highlight inter-connections, and quickly estimate the extent of a case or crisis. This kind of epidemiological analysis helped in clarifying both the EHEC outbreak and the norovirus outbreak.

Crisis Unit Office

Apart from the bodies described here above which may be convened in a situation of crisis, the Crisis Management Agreement also provides for permanent establishment of a Crisis Unit Office at the BVL. This provision was implemented on 15 November 2013 by establishing Unit 108: “Crisis Unit Office, Prevention” at the BVL.

In a situation of crisis, the Crisis Unit Office makes sure that the Crisis Unit and the Task Force are effectively coordinated. The head of the Crisis Unit Office will also head the Task Force, and be the interface and contact partner to the Crisis Unit and emergency centres of other Federal Authorities.

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© 2018 Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety