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Tracing food safety - 15/06/2010

Cows peer out of a cattle van in front of a slaughterhouse in Germany © Reporters

EU veterinary week focuses on identifying and tracking animals.

Mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease, swine flu and bird flu – a string of outbreaks and scares have hit European farms hard over the last two decades. With sometimes devastating effects, they have brought home the importance of traceability – the ability to track food during the various stages of production, processing and distribution, for example through the use of bar codes, animal passports and ear tags.

But many consumers are still unaware of the benefits, while the food industry sometimes views EU traceability rules as burdensome.

From 14-20 June, EU countries will be staging events to raise awareness of traceability, the focus of this year’s EU veterinary week. In Brussels, the week began with a two-day conference touching on a range of issues, including the electronic tagging of sheep and traceability in organic agriculture and global trade.

Traceability helps authorities contain threats to food safety or supply, whether from diseased animals or contaminated food. It also helps guarantee the origin of regional specialties like Iberico ham or Irish beef.

Since 2002, the EU has required all businesses in the food and feed industry to be able to rapidly identify the sources and destinations of their products. Producers must also notify authorities about potential risks and withdraw affected products from the market.

“Today we take it for granted that we know the full history of a piece of beef or that we can trace individual sheep in the EU and food products throughout the whole food chain,” health commissioner John Dalli said. “This level of animal health protection and food safety was not achieved overnight.”

More on traceability in the food chain

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