Safe food: Would Ukraine guarantee European quality of products?

Author : Yuriy Ohlashennyi Lyubov Akulenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukraine has finally taken a step towards European control system of food producers
13:32, 14 April 2017

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Ukraine has finally taken a step towards European control system of food operators. It has approved exhaustive list of issues that the inspector might ask during inspection of production facilities.

The debates around the reform of legislation on food safety has started long time ago, as it applies not only to the Association Agreement and the whims of European citizen, but life and health of the Ukrainians. However, without its proper implementation Ukraine might lose the European market, which opened for business as an alternative to Russian one.

Naturally, European requirements are many times higher.

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However, improving competitiveness is in favor of the Ukrainians who would receive more guarantees of the product safety and business. Since compliance with world's most stringent European requirements increases their chances in other international markets.

A lot has been done for this. September 20, 2014 a new law on European integration basic principles and requirements for safety and quality of food came into force. And its positions are gradually taking effect. In particular, these are transitional periods for the implementation of the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), new control system for food safety.

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In particular, since 20 September 2016, all facilities that manufacture food products had to introduce hygiene requirements that are an integral part of the foundation and procedures based on the principles of the HACCP.

Since 20 September 2017 procedures based on HACCR principles would become binding for entities engaged in food production and which use unprocessed animal ingredients (except small capacities) - raw meat, fish, milk, eggs, etc.

This requirement, for instance, would apply to facilities for dismantling meat, milk processing plants, sausage shops, establishments that use raw eggs, etc.

From September 20, 2018, this requirement would apply to facilities that use food products, which include no raw ingredients of animal origin.

Finally, from September 20, 2019, this requirement would extend to small entities (with less than 10 people staff, 400 sq. m. area, or facilities that do not deliver products to the final consumer, with a staff of less than 5 people).

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However, there is another equally important issue. The law on safety and quality of food outlines only some possible requirements for the inspection of food operators.

For Europe, this issue is extremely important because the health of its citizens is in the first place, and the efficiency of state control means a guarantee of its safety.

Ukraine does not have a system of control similar to the European one. That is why EU is concerned that dangerous Ukrainian food products might go to their counters. Therefore, domestic exporters might lose their "status" of European supplier.

Special bill on state control №0906, required by the procedures of the European integration, has been preparing jointly by the MPs and experts to the second reading. Without this step the reform would not be complete. And here we should immediately remove the possible issue of overregulation and enhance opportunities for corruption in the implementation of new state tests.

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A few days ago, the so-called "check-lists" were published, a comprehensive list of issues that the inspector can ask when auditing company under state control.  The first list of questions relate hygiene requirements for handling food (order of Ministry of Agriculture of 06.02.2017 № 42). The second one is about the legal requirements concerning the permanent procedures based on HACCP principles (Order of Ministry of Agriculture of 06.02.2017 № 41).

Accordingly, the first act on the hygienic requirements had to take action on September 20, 2016 for all facilities that manufacture food. Second – since 20 September 2017 –  for facilities engaged in food, which is composed of unprocessed animal ingredients (except small capacity) and using procedures based on HACCR principles.

Adoption of these checklists is an important step because it significantly changes the approach to state control in Ukraine.

Then what are the differences?

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First of all, the list of questions of the state inspector during the state control would be freely accessed.

Business structures would precisely know what the inspector might ask, and every discrepancy should be clearly justified.

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For example, earlier this list of questions did not exist, and the unscrupulous inspector, roughly speaking, could easily call a particular aspect of the company inappropriate.

Therefore, new checklists are exhaustive - inspectors cannot add anything by himself. Each question contains links to specific legal requirements.

It should be added that a new option, which previously did not exist, has been included. This is "minor discrepancy" that does not affect the safety of food and its compliance with the legislation, does not provide for early inspection and is the only preventive measure to avoid abuse.

That is, market operator is not responsible for this "minor discrepancy", and he should just fix it.

Another positive feature of these checklists is that they evaluate how market operators have achieved the goal (compliance in food safety, not the methods of its achieving chosen by business himself). Therefore, it also significantly reduces the risk of corruption in the process of state control, as well as expands the scope of responsibility. However, consumer inspections under the new system of state control and relevant checklists mean control over the process, not the product.

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Controls at the process level is the highest guarantee of product safety. While monitoring violations at the stage of the finished product is very difficult. That is why control of all stages of the production process and sale of food products reduces the risk that the consumer might get dangerous food.

In addition, implementation of the appropriate implementation of the state control check-lists is a significant advantage for domestic exporters of food products to the EU, which has a similar assessment. Accordingly, while writing and approving lists of issues, Ukraine focused on maximum account of European standards. Therefore, despite the lack of a European equivalent system of state control, the very fact of checklists approval is a positive signal. The frequency of inspections of enterprises engaged in the production and sale of food products depends on the risk associated with the type of the product.

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However, to implement a risk-based approach, Ukraine should adopt bill №0906 on state control. It also is essential to achieve efficiency of checklists approval as part of European integration reforms in food safety.

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