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Food Law General Principles

The general principles of food and feed law are outlined in the General Food Law Regulation (Articles 5 to 10). They form an horizontal framework underpinning all Union and national measures relating to food and feed. They cover all stages of the production, processing and distribution of food as well as feed produced for (or fed to) food-producing animals.

General objectives of food and feed law:

  • Guarantee a high level of protection of human life and health and the protection of consumers’ interests. Also guarantee fair practices in food trade, taking into account animal health and welfare, plant health and the environment

  • Ensure free movement of food and feed manufactured and marketed in the Union, in accordance with the General Food Law Regulation

  • Facilitate global trade of safe feed and safe, wholesome food by taking into account international standards and agreements when developing Union legislation, except where this might undermine the high level of consumer protection pursued by the Union.

Risk analysis principle

The General Food Law Regulationestablishes the principle of risk analysis in relation to food and feed 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 to be used, food law, and in particular measures relating to food safety must be underpinned by strong science. The Union has been at the forefront of the development of risk analysis principles and their subsequent international acceptance. Food law is based on the three inter-related components of risk analysis:

  • risk assessment

  • risk management

  • risk communication.

Risk assessment 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. In the risk management phase, the decision makers need to consider a range of other information in addition to the scientific risk assessment. These include, for example:

  • most effective risk reduction actions depending on the part of the food supply chain where the problem occurs

  • feasibility of controlling a risk
  • socio-economic effects

  • environmental impact

  • a wide range of other factors legitimate to the matter under consideration.

Risk communication is the interactive exchange of information and opinion throughout the risk analysis process among risk assessors, risk managers, consumers, feed and food businesses, academics, other interested parties.

Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle (Article 7 of the General Food Law) refers to specific situations where:

  • there are reasonable grounds for concern that an unacceptable level of risk to health exists
  • the available supporting information and data are not sufficiently complete to enable a comprehensive risk assessment to be made.

When faced with these specific circumstances, decision makers or risk managers may take measures or other actions based on the precautionary principle, while seeking more complete scientific and other data. Such measures have to comply with the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality and should be provisional until the time when more comprehensive information concerning the risk can be gathered and analysed.

Transparency

Food safety and protection of consumer interests are of great concern to the general public, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, international trading partners and trade organisations. Therefore, transparency of decision-making is of paramount importance. The General Food Law Regulation provides for the mechanisms necessary to increase consumer confidence in food law:

  • Effective public consultations during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food and feed law

  • Obligation on public authorities to inform the general public, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a food or feed may present a risk for human or animal health.