New Official Controls Regulation in the European Union
On December 14, 2019, the new Official Controls Regulation (OCR) 2017/625 entered into force in the European Union (EU). While the new OCR does not revolutionize the system in place, it provides certain key changes to ensure that food and feed are safe in Europe. Until December 13, 2019, the EU system of official controls was governed by separate pieces of legislations which covered food and feed safety, plant health or animal-by-products. The new OCR intends to simplify this complex framework by either repealing or amending the legislations to provide a coherent approach, and this, toward official controls along the all agri-food chain. Indeed, the new OCR does not only ensure food and feed safety from the traditional “farm to fork” but it also encompasses a multidimensional aspect that includes the environment.
The new OCR also includes provisions toward more transparency for the operators which, for example, must assist and cooperate with the staff of the competent authorities in the accomplishment of their task (Article 15(2) as well as for the competent authorities which, for example, must provide a copy of the report to the operators subject to an official control (Article 13). Another key change brought by the new OCR is the extension of the risk-based approach which before was not fully used in certain areas of the law such as border controls of food imported from third country. For a risk-based approach, the frequency of controls should be linked to the risk a product or process presents with respect to the agri-food chain. The evaluation of the risk should, for instance, include the operator’s past records of compliance and the reliability of its own checks as well as any information indicating the likelihood that consumers might be misled about, for example, the properties, quality or composition of the food. This integration of the risk-based approach also reflects the ambitions of the new OCR to make the official controls more efficient.
The new OCR includes key provisions in relation to food fraud and e-commerce of foods. Those two aspects were quite extensively discussed during the recent conference organized by the European Commission on December 13, 2019 “Smarter rules for safer food and plant health”. The provisions related to the ‘food fraud’ illustrate the intense debates held during the trialogue negotiations, as at the same time, the horse meat scandal had just broken out. This scandal shown that the system of official controls in place was not sufficient when the issue was not only related to food safety but also invovled misleading and deceptive practices. The new OCR therefore clearly provides that: “Competent authorities shall perform official controls regularly, with appropriate frequencies determined on a risk basis, to identify possible intentional violations of the [Agri-food chain legislation], perpetrated through fraudulent or deceptive practices, and taking into account information regarding such violations shared through the mechanisms of administrative assistance”. Unfortunately, the new OCR does not include a definition of ‘food fraud’.
While the new OCR is not a revolution in the field of food safety, it nevertheless provides for key changes.