The General Principles of Food Law (Articles 5 to 10) entered into force on 21 February 2002 and must be followed when measures are taken. Existing food law principles and procedures must be adapted by 1 January 2007 in order to comply with the general framework established by Regulation EC/178/2002 .
The food law aims at ensuring a high level of protection of human life and health, taking into account the protection of animal health and welfare, plant health and the environment. This integrated "farm to fork" approach is now considered a general principle for EU food safety policy.
Food law, both at national and EU level, establishes the rights of consumers to safe food and to accurate and honest information. The EU food law aims to harmonise existing national requirements in order to ensure the free movement of food and feed in the EU.
The food law recognises the EU's commitment to its international obligations and will be developed and adapted taking international standards into consideration, except where this might undermine the high level of consumer protection pursued by the EU.
The Regulation establishes the principles of risk analysis in relation to food and establishes the structures and mechanisms for the scientific and technical evaluations which are undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Depending on the nature of the measure, food law, and in particular measures relating to food safety must be underpinned by strong science. The EU has been at the forefront of the development of the risk analysis principles and their subsequent international acceptance. Regulation EC 178/2002 establishes in EU law that the three inter-related components of risk analysis (risk assessment, risk management and risk communication) provide the basis for food law as appropriate to the measure under consideration. Clearly not all food law has a scientific basis, e.g. food law relating to consumer information or the prevention of misleading practices does not need a scientific foundation.
Scientific assessment of risk must be undertaken in an independent, objective and transparent manner based on the best available science.
Risk management is the process of weighing policy alternatives in the light of results of a risk assessment and, if required, selecting the appropriate actions necessary to prevent, reduce or eliminate the risk to ensure the high level of health protection determined as appropriate in the EU.
In the risk management phase, the decision makers need to consider a range of information in addition to the scientific risk assessment. These include, for example, the feasibility of controlling a risk, the most effective risk reduction actions depending on the part of the food supply chain where the problem occurs, the practical arrangements needed, the socio-economic effects and the environmental impact. Regulation EC/178/2002 establishes the principle that risk management actions are not just based on a scientific assessment of risk but also take into consideration a wide range of other factors legitimate to the matter under consideration.
Food safety and the protection of consumer interests are of increasing concern to the general public, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, international trading partners and trade organisations. Therefore, the Regulation establishes a framework for the greater involvement of stakeholders at all stages in the development of food law and establishes the mechanisms necessary to increase consumer confidence in food law.
This consumer confidence is an essential outcome of a successful food policy and is therefore a primary goal of EU action related to food. Transparency of legislation and effective public consultation are essential elements of building this greater confidence. Better communication about food safety and the evaluation and explanation of potential risks, including full transparency of scientific opinions, are of key importance.