EU Commission monitors food safety progress in Western Balkans

EU Commission monitors food safety progress in Western Balkans

by Sue Jones
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The European Commission has looked at progress in the food safety systems of four countries in the Western Balkans that are trying to become EU member states.

The reports cover many areas and developments in the past year in Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The European Commission also assessed food safety progress made by Serbia, North Macedonia and Turkey.

For Montenegro, an analysis found progress was made in agriculture, food and fisheries, so the focus should now be on areas including upgrading food establishments and food safety controls.

Updating sites for products and by-products of animal origin continued. Some 68 plants producing food of animal origin are compliant with EU regulations and 15 of them have been licensed to export to the region. The first establishment for goat milk processing and a major fishery products processor with 19 facilities joined the EU list in 2020. Strengthening administrative and inspection capacity and related infrastructure needs to remain a priority, found the report.

Legislation was adopted in 2020 on phytosanitary measures and the monitoring of pesticide residues in food. The program for food and feed safety measures and genetically modified food and feed monitoring was done and prepared for 2021.

Areas to improve in Kosovo
The report on Kosovo found limited progress on agriculture, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy but some level of preparation in these areas.

Issues include development of the food control and traceability system as well as management of food safety and veterinary laboratory information.

The “long overdue” process of transferring 76 inspectors from municipalities to the Food and Veterinary Agency started in August 2021. This would allow for proper implementation of legislation. The 2021 budget of the agency decreased by 18 percent.

The food and veterinary lab continued work and participated in proficiency testing with EU reference laboratories. However, no progress was made in getting international accreditation.

The Food and Veterinary Agency has yet to adopt measures to enforce regulation at livestock markets, slaughterhouses and transport. There was also no headway on identifying basic cross-compliance measures in food safety, animal health and welfare.

Bosnia and Herzegovina at a standstill
Bosnia and Herzegovina made no progress in agriculture and rural development, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy and fisheries, where preparation is mostly at an early stage, according to the analysis.

The report found the country should speed up plans for national reference labs, provide an updated National Salmonella Control Plan, and maintain vaccination against brucellosis. The country should try to meet the criteria for export of table eggs to the EU and ensure that its Salmonella program is updated, aligned with the EU and fully implemented.

The full national reference laboratories system is still not in place with a need to increase the accreditation of lab methods used in hygiene, veterinary and phytosanitary controls, and in the food and feedstuff control system.

The country’s official food and feed control system is yet to be fully aligned with the EU. At all levels of government, administrative capacities need to be strengthened. This includes the inspection services and labs, for which inter-laboratory comparative tests need to be introduced.

There was no progress in setting up the country’s reference laboratory for testing, controlling and monitoring the presence of GMOs in food and feed.

Risk assessment in Albania
The report on Albania found some level of preparation in agriculture and rural development, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy and fisheries. Progress was made in these areas but the farm register needed to be set up.

The National Food Authority carried out regular official controls in line with the annual risk-based plan. However, there was no progress on adoption of an improved risk assessment methodology, because of the absence of information technology systems required to analyze the data. The authority has yet to improve the quality of inspection statistics where it is limited to the number of checks or measures taken on infringements.

Staff of the agency also need training on carrying out rapid risk assessments to ensure that risk management decisions have a legal and scientific basis.

Albania has continued amending national regulation on hygiene requirements for meat and meat products, milk and milk based products, live and bivalve mollusks and fish and fishery products to ensure a partial match to EU regulation.

Initial GMO rules from May 2020 have not been followed by other acts on the authorization procedure, responsibilities, and powers of the authorities.

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