Audits, the role of the Health Administration

0
8

The recent conference dedicated by ASL Turin to the new regulation on official public controls (1) was worth sharing some thoughts on the role of the Health Administration. Which inevitably, as will be seen, includes verification and intervention on consumer information related to food products.

Reg. EU 2017/625, scope and protected interests

‘This Regulation shall apply to official controls carried out to verify compliance with the legislation, issued by the Union or the Member States pursuant to Union legislation in the following areas relating to: a) food and food safety, integrity and wholesomeness, at all stages of food production, processing and distribution, including rules to ensure fair trade practices and to protect the interests and information of consumers, the manufacture and use of materials and articles intended to come into contact with food […]’ (EU Reg. 2017/625, Art. 1)

Public health, in the new regulation, is thus configured as a broader legal good, one that moves from and transcends concrete requirements of food wholesomeness (see next paragraph) to encompass traditionally disjointed property aspects.

Information to the consumAtor takes on value as such, to the point of considering untrue news as a kind of threat, an attack on the social pact that unites the supply chain from thefarm to the fork, from stable to table.

The National Integrated Plan of Inspections (NIP ) on the other hand, with the reprimand of the various authorities, signals a cultural shift precisely in the aspiration to restore the ‘correct value of food’. A value that must also be ensured through its appropriate-as truthful and transparent-representation.

Food safety and consumer information

The health significance of consumer information has been highlighted as early as the General Food Law. In the parts that cite the need to consider the information accompanying the food for the purpose of its safety assessment, which must also take into account the health needs of vulnerable groups of consumers.

The general labeling requirements in the Food Information Regulation, (3) for that matter, include news of obvious health significance. Such as:

– special storage conditions, (4)

expiration date,

– Allergen, gluten-free and lactose-free statements,

– ‘sensitive’ ingredients (e.g., caffeine and quinine, glycyrrhizinic acid, phenylalanine, plant-derived phytosterols and stanols, polyols).

Other label information relevant to public health is found in various horizontal (i.e., applicable to the generality of foods, such as:

– lot code (5)

Nutrition & Health Claims, (6)

– Addition of minerals, vitamins and other substances to food products. (7)

Then there is added the news required by the vertical regulations among which we mention, as a mere nod:

– Dietary supplements, conditions of use and information, (8)

– origin of meat, information related to the livestock supply chain. (9)

Checks and sanctions, power plays

The sanctions decree scheme act to punish violations of reg. EU 1169/11, as complained of, gives the ICQRF sanctioning competence on a seemingly exclusive basis.

EU Regulation 2017/625, however, requires member states to coordinate all official public control activities performed on the food chain by a single authority. In our country, inevitably, the Ministry of Health. The member state may delegate certain tasks to another authority, with the duty, however, to designate ‘a single authority to coordinate cooperation and contacts with the Commission and other member states in relation to official controls and other official activities‘ (Art. 4.2.b).

Therefore, the issue cannot be resolved in the mere removal of part of its own powers from the health authorities by an act of government responding only to the interests of professional representations. Since it is clear to all that there is a huge disproportion in resources between the Health Administration and the Quality Control and Fraud Repression Inspectorate, relegating ‘exclusivity’ on sanctions to the latter body is in fact to drastically reduce its scope, nationwide. (10)

Therefore, the approach proposed by the Gentiloni government benefits farmers and industrialists. In a short-sighted and individualistic – but at the same time corporate, so electoral and ‘political’ – vision of reducing the impact of legality on business operations. But reducing the ‘risk of fines’ is a vulnus to the common interest in food safety and transparency of information. A betrayal of that social pact mentioned in the first paragraph, with the added risk of injury to the integrity and reputation of Made in Italy food.

Consumer information controls, the role of the Health Administration

If the case of non-compliance is established, the competent authorities (…) shall take appropriate measures to ensure that the operator concerned remedies the cases of non-compliance and prevents their recurrence’ (EU Reg. 2017/625, Article 138).

In the end and from the beginning, the European regulation on official public controls. Which in the hierarchy of sources of law has a superordinate role even over Italian constitutional norms. And it is crystal clear in stipulating that the supervisory authorities, in the event of detected non-compliance, must take ‘appropriate measures’. These include ‘arrange treatments on goods, label changes or corrective information to be provided to consumers.’ (11)


Requirements on labels
, signs at bulk food outlets, menus and registers in public establishments, canteens and caterers. Administrative sanctions (12) and criminal sanctions (13) in case of non-compliance, sanitary seizure, and ad abundantiam crime report, where applicable. (14)

Duty is Power. (15) Food safety, proper consumer information, justice. Above all commercialism and political expediency, in compliance with European rules.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) See reg. EU 2017/625

(2) See reg. EC 178/02, Article 14

(3) See reg. EU 1169/11, Article 9

(4) See paragraph B of Article http://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/category/notizie/export-in-austria-è-ora-di-rispondere-per-le-rime-ai-consulenti-di-gruppo-rewe

(5) Essential for the purpose of food security crisis management. See dir. 91/2011/EU

(6) Reg. EC 1924/06, reg. EU 432/12 et seq.

(7) EC Reg.1925/06

(8) Dir. 2002/46/EC, reg. EC 1170/09

(9) See reg. EC 1760, 1825/00, reg. EU 1337/13. Information about animals, seeds and embryos, and risk management meanwhile circulates through theTrade Control and Expert System(Traces) https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/traces_en

(10) Thus, in homage to the proponents of soft law. To which, however, we owe the ineffectiveness of food fraud prevention, as noted above

(11) V. reg. EU 625/2017, Article 138

(12) Cf. d.lgs. 193/07, Article 6

(13) See Art. 650 Penal Code, failure to comply with Authority measures.

(14) See Law 283/1962, Articles 1 and 5, Criminal Code, Articles 444 and 452

(15)‘If you have the will, you find the way‘ (Albert Einstein)