Authors: Dr. Ion Agafitei and Monica Neagu
This report was prepared by initiative of Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) and East Europe Foundation (EEF), in the framework of the project Transparent Convergence to EU Policies in Sanitary Issues: the Case of Georgia and Moldova funded by the European Union (EU) and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and should in no way be taken to represent those of EPF, EEF, EU or Sida. Any mistakes or omissions are the responsibility of the author.
All rights are reserved and belong to Eurasia Partnership Foundation
Copyright © Eurasia Partnership Foundation, 2015
1. Assessment context
2. Food safety reforms and objectives in the Republic of Moldova and Georgia
3. Competent authorities
3.1. Structure and organization/Assignment of responsibilities
3.2. Cooperation and coordination within and among competent authorities
3.3. Allocation of resources for the organization of official controls
3.4. Interaction between stakeholders
4. The approximation of the legislation with EU regulation
5. The organization of official controls
5.1. Planning/prioritization of controls
5.2. Procedures for carrying out controls/Implementation of controls
5.3. Reporting system / Collection and management of information
5.4. Measures taken in case of non-compliance
5.5. Management of food emergencies/rapid alert system
6. Verification and audit activities
7. Conclusions and recommendations
1. Assessment context
This document represents a comparative assessment between the state regulation of food safety in the Republic of Moldova (RM) and Georgia. The analysis is based on reports “Food Safety Regulation in Georgia: Assessment of the Government’s Reform Efforts in 2014” drafted by Eurasia Partnership Foundation (Georgia) and “Assessment Report of the regulatory system on food safety in Moldova” within the Project: Transparent Convergence to EU Policies in Sanitary Issues: the Case of Georgia and Moldova drafted by Dr. Ion Agafitei and Monica Neagu. The document notes the achievements of competent authorities from both countries in this area, but it focuses on existing problems in order to ensure their timely detection and elimination. It also contains recommendations to the government of the RM and Georgia on possible ways to tackle these problems. Thus, the identified good practices mentioned in the two reports, could be disseminated and used between the two countries; at the same time, this analysis could also constitute a document of reference for other ex-communist countries which might wish to sign similar agreements of association with the EU. The analysis has been completed with good practices, lessons learned from the Romanian experts who have participated in the process of the Romanian integration in the EU, following the same route, from Soviet legislation to a European one. In this way, the authors convey and explain to the stakeholders the performances of the competent authorities, responsibilities and benefits for the civil society in the area of food safety, thus becoming a part of the dialogue and interaction that must exist between the competent authorities and the stakeholders.
2. Food safety reforms and objectives in the Republic of Moldova and Georgia
Food safety regulations in both countries are based primarily on the principles inherited from Soviet times, which restricted entrepreneurs through the employment of highly detailed standards and favored product inspection and certification. Consequently, a complex but inefficient network of controlling bodies and labs were in place and the inspections conducted within this network were of a formal nature and a source of corruption. Hence, consumers lacked any true protection against food-related threats while simultaneously entrepreneurs were burdened by extremely detailed standards. Starting in 2010, governments from both countries adopted the Comprehensive Strategy, Legislative Approximation Program in Food Safety and action plans containing those legislative activities which were expected to bring the RM and Georgian legislation closer to EU standards. The obligation of implementing the SPS regulatory system is primarily an obligation of the governments of the RM and Georgia due to their quality as member states of the WTO and the methods for implementing the SPS measures were established by the EU Association Agreement. In accordance with the requirements arising from the Action Plan of the Association Agreement of the RM and Georgia with the EU, the sanitary and phytosanitary legislation of the RM and Georgia should gradually be harmonized with that of the EU and the WTO standards based on the EU list of approximation of sanitary and phytosanitary legislation, given the priority business fields and based on the technical and financial resources.
The laws on food safety adopted in both countries fundamentally changed the principles of regulation and the institutional arrangement of the food safety sphere. The legislation transposing the general food law (R CE 178/2002) reflected the main approaches of EU legislation, namely, risk-based food safety control and an integrated control system shifting the focus from the certification of the final product onto the entire food production chain (the so-called “from stable to table” approach). While in the Republic of Moldova a great part of the legislation has already become a part of the national legislation; however, in Georgia, there were delays and significant progress appeared only in 2014, especially after the signing of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. The revision of the legislation regulating the field should be urgently performed in RM and the enforcement of the law in both countries has been repeatedly postponed and was in progress though at a very slow pace. In parallel, a fundamental institutional reform was implemented which resulted in consolidating functions scattered among various state entities and often overlapping, into one entity – National Food Safety Agency (NFSA) in the RM and the National Service for Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection (later renamed the National Food Agency – NFA in Georgia. Nevertheless, food safety reform remained largely of a formal nature in the RM and Georgia; both countries still have a long way to go until they establish an efficient system for the state regulation of food safety as a number of fundamental problems are yet to be solved.
3. Competent authorities involved in food safety
3.1. Structure and organization / Assignment of responsibilities
The system of state regulation of food safety in the RM as well as in Georgia consists of a number of public entities performing different roles. The Ministry of Agriculture and its subordinate entities, respectively the NFSA in the RM and the NFA in Georgia are the key organizations responsible for regulating food safety, but other entities are also involved, as ministries/agencies dealing with public health policies, food quality standards, frauds, consumers protection, and customs.The goal of the founding of the “Authority for Food Safety” has been to create responsibility throughout the entire food chain, but this is not the only institution involved in the field of food safety, as the case is in Romania and in other EU member states. In these conditions, the cooperation and coordination between the authority for food safety and the other involved entities, the elimination of overlaps and “lacks” become essential in the functioning of the regulation and control system.
In the RM, the NFSA was founded under Law 113/2012 and consequently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI) and the Ministry of Health (MH) duties had to be restricted. They remained responsible for developing food safety policies and regulations, including measures and penalties enforceable in case of non-compliance with the legislation. The NFSA also took over the responsibilities from the Ministry of Economy, in relation with food quality surveillance and control. Nevertheless, there are several legislative acts with contradictory provisions thus not enabling a clear delineation of responsibilities among all structures involved in the official food control system. For example: the provisions of Government Decision no. 51/2013, section 8, letter a , the staff of the State Service for Public Health Surveillance and related allowances shall be reduced by 200 units and transferred to the National Agency for Food Safety by February 14, 2013″ are not yet implemented.
The NFSA has 35 territorial subdivisions responsible for implementing the delegated tasks in the administrative districts. The territorial subdivisions report directly to the head office of NFSA. The NFSA has 18 border inspection posts that are subordinated to the head office of NFSA, as well.
In Georgia, the National Food Agency’s main functions include the control of food safety throughout the country and the implementation of preventive measures against animal and plant diseases. The scope of the Agency’s activities which was established in 2010 had been increasing over the past few years. While in previous years the NFA had been an extremely centralized structure, in 2014 its functions were delegated to regional departments. This enabled the NFA to react to unexpected threats more rapidly and also to improve the cost-efficiency of its activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is the key entity responsible for the development and implementation of state policy in the food safety sphere. It is this entity that supervises the implementation of the Comprehensive Strategy and Legislative Approximation Program in Food Safety and the drafting of the Code of Food/Feed Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection.
The Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs has also an important role in the food market regulation system. It is involved in developing and implementing state policy in this sphere. The Ministry has two key obligations: (1) to renew the sanitary-hygienic normative framework and; (2) to implement the monitoring, research and control of food borne diseases. The legal entity of public law (LEPL), the Revenue Service, within the Finance Ministry performs state control in the spheres of food safety when goods are moved across the customs border of Georgia. It was noted that relevant personnel are not sufficiently tasked. If the NFA were responsible for the border control, it could utilize specialists working at customs checkpoints with other tasks and thus, use their full capacity. The draft amendments of the main law, prepared by the Agriculture Ministry, envisaged the NFA as the only entity responsible for state control, but the Finance Ministry offered serious resistance to this particular amendment and it was therefore neglected. Representatives of CSOs find it created burdens with excess obligations and consider it is preferable to entrust the responsibility for ensuring food safety to one entity alone, in this particular case the National Food Agency. Such a change would have contributed to the coordinated and consistent conduct of state control and its increased efficiency. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development is engaged in the system of food market regulation through the Agency for Standards and Metrology, which was established to organize and implement activities within the sphere of standards and metrology and the Unified National Body of Accreditation – the Accreditation Center, engaged in the accreditation of conformity evaluators on the territory of Georgia, including laboratories for conducting food-related tests. There were up to 20 such labs in 2014.
3.2. Cooperation and coordination within and among competent authorities
There are several competent authorities involved in the safety of food, the activities of cooperation and coordination between them are essential for the functioning of the system of official control. The food safety authority has a key role in the food safety control system throughout the food chain, but in Romania and other EU member states there are more state entities involved in this field. As more entities are involved, their coordination requires additional effort, and therefore it is preferable that this situation should be managed by as few entities as possible. The food safety authority should play an important role in these activities of cooperation and coordination and support the adoption of protocols, inter-institutional committees, in order to create an efficient mechanism of coordination. Provisions of Article 4 (3) of the EC R 882/2004 require an effective and efficient coordination between all competent authorities involved or between structures within a competent authority. The current legislative framework in both countries does not specify the way of cooperation and coordination between the competent authorities involved in official control and the provisions of EC R 882/2004 have not been transposed.
The lack of communication and of a protocol to specify clearly the duties and tasks of each institution has led to the overlapping of duties, with negative effects regarding the efficiency of the official control activities. In this case, any effort to access external funds for training activities becomes inefficient. Although it is stipulated that the NFSA from the RM has attributions of “coordinating the activities of risk assessment and risk communication”, “performing risk management for animal origin products throughout the food chain”, the authority has not exercised such competences.
Within the NFSA, cooperation with the territorial structures is done by orders and decrees that mainly establish organisational aspects and instructions for the activity of inspection and control. An inter-institutional communication with the NFSA has not yet been achieved; however, there is occasional collaboration, with no deadlines, contact persons, and exchange of information. The lack of coordination and cooperation has led to the adoption of laws with different or even contradictory provisions regulating the same field. This is difficult to manage both when implementing laws and controlling their implementation. Although the NFSA is responsible for the check of the compliance with the legislation on the entire food chain, the laboratories involved in the official food control are appointed by MAFI. This is because competencies remain within MAFI. Furthermore, methods of communication and cooperation have not been established, as to avoid undesirable effects of tariffs related to laboratory investigations and the time frame for issuing permits by the NFSA.
In Georgia, there is no systematic mechanism of cooperation between the NFA and other entities involved in food safety system, other than cooperation with the National Center for Disease Control and Public health. The Center maintains disease statistics which are important for the evaluation of food-related risks reformation and efficiency of the state’s food safety regulatory system. The cooperation between the Center and the NFA is in need of a qualitative change in order to make it more intensive and systemic. This will contribute to the collection of accurate statistical data as well as to the implementation of a more effective strategy upon the detection of hotbeds of diseases.
In both countries, there is no systematic coordination, protocols, or regular meetings of the authorities involved. Additionally, there is poor dissemination of information arising from the activities of supporting various international and European institutions (projects with external funding, cascade and mutual training / information sessions) that can be noticed in RM. Such activities are particularly important for monitoring official controls as well as gaps or overlaps. In sum, there are opportunities for improvement.
3.3. Allocation of resources for the organization of official controls
The shortage of qualified personnel from the public entities in the RM and Georgia is one of the serious factors impeding the successful reformation of food safety regulation. Although many donors invest substantial resources in upgrading the qualifications for employees of the Agriculture Ministry and other public entities, the state bodies need to undertake consistent and coordinated efforts to maintain trained personnel and to overcome this problem. The state entities from Georgia are facing a shortage of qualified personnel, especially at the regional level. In revising and drafting of the sanitary-hygienic normative framework at the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs there is only one freelance employee working on these issues who, apart from food-related issues, has other tasks to perform. This Ministry must assign more human resources for the fulfillment of its obligations in the food safety sphere. Another example is that of the Ministry of Agriculture where the food safety department has only two employees. To fulfil the obligations assumed under the EU- Georgia Association Agreement, progress was made in 2014 at the Ministry of Agriculture, when it was decided to set up a Euro-integration department with the key task of revising the normative food safety framework.
The staff of the NFA increased in 2014 with 181 employees of which 136 have been placed in regional departments. It was also noted that in 2014 improvements were made in infrastructure and training of employees as well as in the empowerment of regional departments. Nevertheless, the state budget is insufficient for preventive actions. If such vital preventive actions are not taken, such as in the case of zoonosis, the health of consumers could be in jeopardy. In the RM, the NFSA has a total of 1457 employees of which 156 are located in the central office; 1182 work at the district subdivision level and 119 employees are located at border inspection posts. Personnel are represented by veterinarians and chemical engineers. There are no doctors, contrary to the legislation stipulating that such personnel should have been taken from MH. Staff in the regional subdivisions is trained by specialists from the head office of the NFSA. In the Ministry of Agriculture there is a Division for food safety consisting of 5 persons. In early 2015 two additional personnel members have been employed.
Most of the labs used by the NFSA in official control are owned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health. Thus the NFSA encountered difficulties in coordinating with these labs. We assume that from our experience in Romania, the official laboratory should be under the coordination of the food safety authority which performs official controls. These labs need to be specialised to cover all food safety fields and financed accordingly. The NFSA should coordinate and specialize with these laboratories depending on the resources available. Such a strategy could form the basis for accessing external resources for the development of laboratories, where appropriate. Currently, in the RM there are insufficient funds from the state budget for surveillance programs, including funding for priority areas related to products with high potential for exports such as eggs, poultry and meat. In the first quarter of 2015 no action has been performed within the Surveillance Program.
The shortage of qualified personnel is a significant problem, especially in Georgia, where important resources are necessary in order to harmonize a large part of the legislation so as to meet the requirements of the association agreement with the EU. Although in the RM a significant legislation has been adopted; however, it is still necessary to train the personnel and to receive support from the EU in order to revise the legislation and to implement it adequately. This, of course, will require both time and financial resources.
The opportunity of creating a department of European integration with persons who should be exclusively in charge of the transposition and revision of the legislation in this field so as to be harmonized with that of the EU. In Romania, during the pre-accession period, efforts were made to hire a large number of young people known as Euro councilors, whose tasks were exclusively connected to correlating the Romanian and European legislation, and they received supplementary pay. These persons ensured the connection between the Ministry of European Integration and the technical structures within ministries/authorities.
The NFSA must have doctors in order to cover all the sectors in the field of food safety; at the same time, the NSFA must develop its capacity to coordinate with all the laboratories that participate in the official control. Authorities in RM could follow Georgia’s example, regarding the cooperation with doctors, epidemiologists, and their involvement in food safety issues. The authorities from Georgia should plan and prioritize the issue of personnel training. In the first stage, the personnel at central level should be trained; then the local personnel should follow, through level-by-level training. It is essential that, in order for trainings to be efficient, the information should be received by qualified personnel and then be disseminated.
Even though the RM has a richer experience in control activities and communication between central and regional levels, the trainings organized at the central level are superficial, and is more focused on administrative and organizational aspects rather than on technical discussions necessary for the professional development of the inspectors. One aspect that needs to be developed is connected to the fact that the information received during training sessions must be made public; at present it is not published on the sites of public entities.
The state bodies from both countries need to undertake consistent and coordinated efforts to gradually develop needed competence for the staff. The assistance from EU or international organizations (FAO, UNDP, etc.) should be taken into consideration to accelerate this process.
3.4. Interaction between stakeholders
- awareness of food safety issues among both entrepreneurs and consumers
An important challenge to the state and society is the level of awareness of food safety issues among both entrepreneurs and consumers. Reforms cannot be successful if entrepreneurs make no efforts to ensure food safety in their activities and consumers fail to properly understand the actual risks related to food safety and do not protect their rights. According to observations, the level of awareness of food safety among these two groups is quite low in both countries. Various programs to support entrepreneurship, which are funded both from the state budget and by foreign donors, are being implemented in Georgia and the RM. These programs involve food safety issues too, including the education of entrepreneurs and the provision of support in various ways to prepare them for new requirements in food safety. It is difficult to say whether or not these programs are efficient, but much work must be done in this area. This problem will be very difficult to overcome without relevant state policy and serious efforts in changing the mentality of the civil servants. Associations of producers, processors should be considered as dialogue partners not as subordinates. In this context, civil society could facilitate the dialogue between public entities and representatives of food business operators.
- Cooperation on food safety legislation
Since the manner of approach of SPS issues (including food safety and consumer protection) is different in the EU compared to former communist countries, dozens of laws were harmonized which changed the activities of processors and consumers. In order to keep them from being reluctant, the regulatory competent authorities should engage them in the drafting of legislation and ask for feedback from processor and consumers. The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is very important in understanding the new legislation and therefore they should be convoked by the ministries as “stakeholders” in various fields and subsequently be used in the public dissemination of new laws and their advantages. Stakeholders should be trained and should know the ways to develop investments so that they become competitive, even obtaining non-reimbursable funds.
The reformation of the food safety sphere is a very complex and labor-consuming activity and each country’s legislatures must ensure that the normative materials which they may draft are easily available, predictable and clear to the maximum possible extent to both controlling bodies and business operators. Scattering changes around multiple normative acts will make it difficult for interested persons to find information about changes and implement them in practice.
In the RM, at MAFI there is no record of NGOs, employers’ organizations and industry associations. Communication with NGOs is currently informal and there is no Advisory Board, Products Board or regular meetings. The legislative projects are posted on the website, but no comments can be made, and the associations are only at the beginning level and are not stimulated to develop. In Georgia, issues concerning the reformation of the food safety sphere and, in general, food market regulation, fall within the competence of the Agrarian Issues Committee of Parliament and the Ministry of Agriculture. Interested CSOs and entrepreneurs were regularly invited to participate in the considerations of the Code of Food/Feed Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection (hereinafter “Code”) and a number of recommendations submitted by different organizations were accommodated in the Code’s final wording. The Committee also held several hearings on Agriculture Ministry and NFA activities in the area of food safety regulation, to which private sector and nongovernmental organization representatives were invited.
In order to continue to be relatively open in cooperating with society, meetings with different stakeholder groups such as CSOs and businesses are conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia. This cooperation, however, is neither systematic nor institutionalized. Several draft normative acts are published on the Ministry’s website and interested persons are able to respond with comments on these documents to the Ministry. This, however, is not the case with regard to all normative acts. As the Association Agreement was signed, misleading information about obligations assumed by Georgia under this agreement, including information about food market regulation, began to spread, causing unnecessary anxiety among a segment of the population and fanning negative attitudes towards Georgia’s European integration. Such attitudes are likely to continue, especially considering the planned approximation of Georgian legislation with 375 normative EU acts in the field of food safety. This is yet another reason for the Ministry to qualitatively overhaul its public relations and take a more proactive and consistent approach.
It is necessary to institutionalize cooperation with the public, in particular to determine forms of cooperation with the public and make this cooperation systemic.
- Response to applications from consumers to alleged violations
Public authorities from the RM including the CPA, NFSA, and Public Health Centres do not always react promptly and effectively to complaints from citizens’ and NGOs’ including public consumer associations. This indicates the lack of clear regulations and procedures of dealing with consumer and associations’ complaints. Moreover, excessive formalization and bureaucratisation of the procedures for examining complaints can be seen. In this context, we have not received from the CPA the documents requested, even if there is an agreement to release this information.
According to Article 25, paragraph (2), letter e) of the Law no. 105/ 13.03.2003 on consumer protection, public associations of consumers have the right to organize in the manner prescribed by law, the expertise of products, services in terms of their compliance with the prescribed or declared requirements. Despite such rights granted to public associations of consumers, the national legal framework does not include provisions regulating and detailing the procedure for performing the expertise of products by public associations of consumers. Moreover, the public authorities do not recognize expertise carried out by the public associations of consumers. Similarly, there is a risk that such expertise be declared invalid by the court (in case of potential litigation), on the grounds of non-compliance with the laws and procedures (that do not exist for the public associations of consumers). One solution would be that such associations to train their own staff or have contracts with independent specialists with skills in sampling and the laboratory analyzes to be conducted in accredited laboratories.
In Georgia, according to observations of civil society organizations, recent years have seen a stable improvement in the NFA response to applications from civil society organizations or consumers to alleged violations. The assessment proved that in the majority of such cases, the NFA employees inspected corresponding products or facilities in the shortest possible timeframes. The situation has improved in the last years, especially with the 2014 amendments to the Food Code, which provides that the NFA is obliged to operatively react to applications from consumers. However, the Agency is still not oriented towards encouraging an increase in applications from citizens and currently the number of applications from citizens is quite small. The most recent sociological survey (conducted in 2013) show that 76.5 percent of the Georgian population do not know about the existence of NFA. This is natural because the NFA hotline is not promoted and it is not always easy to obtain relevant information by calling the phone numbers indicated on the NFA website.
Public authorities from the RM do not always react promptly and effectively to complaints from citizens and NGOs. The lack of clear regulations and procedures of dealing with the consumer complaints and too much bureaucracy could be noted.
In order to increase the number of applications from citizens, the NFA from Georgia must provide citizens with basic information about food safety issues because when equipped with the necessary knowledge, consumers will be able to help the NFA detect more violations than they do already. The more clearly citizens see that the NFA reacts to their applications, the higher the popularity of the entity and the trust of people towards it will become.
The authorities from both countries need twinning projects with consumer protection authorities from other EU Member States, so as to learn from the procedures and good practices they utilize/use, and therefore accelerate the development of the capacity to react to consumer complaints.
- Public relations
One of the tools necessary to ensure the efficiency of state control is the full publication of its results. This makes consumers better informed and stimulates law-abidance on the part of entrepreneurs. Awareness of food safety requirement violations among citizens will negatively affect the sales and the proceeds of business operators. A step forward made by the NFA from Georgia in the past few years is the operative publication of information about detected violations, with corresponding business operators and products indicated and also, periodic publications of overall results of control which it started to publish in 2014. Information about revealed violations was published in an ongoing regime in the form of news on the NFA website and Facebook page. Information is not published about all violations and the criteria for selecting information for publication were not clear.
For the first time ever in 2014 general data concerning the control conducted over a period of time, with business operators and violations indicated therein was published. This time the population was not provided with information on every type of control conducted by the NFA (in particular, information about pesticides, agrochemicals and veterinary medicines) and the results of the control of corresponding facilities were not published. Categories for data and the regularity of their publication must be clearly defined. Moreover, to increase effectiveness of published information, it is better for the NFA not to limit itself to the publication of dry data alone but to add some descriptive elements which will describe detected harmful products, misleading products, enterprises with significant violations as well as enterprises that observe the requirements. The press releases from the RM present the results of controls and the legislation violations, but this information is difficult to find on the web site and the language used is difficult to understand.
- Other actions involving civil sector
A positive initiative of the NFA in Georgia, in terms of ensuring civil sector involvement was the establishment of the “civil council.” The council was created at the end of 2013 as one of the mechanisms of dialogue between the NFA and society. Among the invitees to the council were representatives of business associations, civil organizations interested in the food safety sphere, and specialists. The council is also open to new members. The charter of the civil council envisaged a meeting once every quarter. However, in 2014, only two such meetings were held and these resulted in no tangible results. Thus, the hall actually failed to perform its role last year. It is still possible to effectively enact this mechanism and make it beneficial.
The establishment of the “civil council” at the NFA in Georgia is an important step in attempting to create a mechanism of dialogue between public entities and society, but efforts should be made to make it functional and efficient.
A civil council was also established in Romania. Its role is to create a mechanism of communication with civil society. The adequate functioning of this council took place gradually, in time, as both the public entities/authorities and the associations had to be well developed.
A procedure for the organization and functioning was drafted, and in 2013 sub-committees on various sub-fields, such as bakery, meat, and milk were established. In this way, the partners in dialogue are directly involved in the discussions regarding various sub-fields, and their results are more visible. The authorities from the RM should also follow the example of these good practices, and they should create some exchanges of experience with Georgia and Romania.
4. Approximation of the legislation with EU legislation
In the RM, approximation of the legislation with EU legislation started in 2010. In Georgia, significant progress regarding the development of food safety regulation took place only in 2014, following the signing of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. In the RM, the analysis of the legislative documents on food safety in force has shown that currently there is not a uniform legislative framework, covering all major segments of this area and taking into account the basic principles established at EU level. Although many of the provisions of EC legislation were transposed automatically into the national legislation, the basic legislative acts are developed by different governmental institutions or by an institution on different dates and have a non-unitary, duplicitous or sometimes contradictory nature, and thus cannot constitute a basis for achieving the main objective. The establishment and development of a single, effective food safety system to ensure the protection of consumers and their interests should be devised. The provisions of these legislative documents can create confusions and sometimes barriers that increase the administrative burden and therefore the compliance costs for the private sector with negative effects on the competitiveness of the food business operators.
There is also EU legislation that has not yet been transposed in the national legislation, for a functioning rapid alert system. In relation with the subsidiary legislation which refers to the sub-domains of food safety, such as hygiene, labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, food contaminants, authorized food additives and purity criteria, it can be seen that some of these rules were adopted before the establishment of NFSA. Additionally they have not been updated with a view to clarifying the responsibilities related to the development and revision of legislation and the monitoring of the compliance with the legal requirements. Moreover, the technical aspects of such legislative documents should be reviewed given that EU legislation was amended following their adoption.
In terms of labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs there is at the EU level a new approach focused on the need for informing consumers in a clearer manner regarding products and characteristics related to their benefits and risks. This also applies to establishing stricter rules to avoid practices of misleading the consumers and introducing new elements on the origin of products, label nutrition facts for almost all products, remote or online selling. Priority should be given to application of such an approach in the Republic of Moldova in order to strengthen consumer protection and avoid unfair NFSA practices in the marketing of food and product fraud. Moreover, the range of products intended for export to the European Union will be diversified.
Besides these legislative documents, several decrees and orders with duplicate or contradictory provisions were identified.There are situations in which even the inspectors do not know the legislation or are not able to interpret it, much less the FBO who should apply it.
In Georgia, amendments introduced to the Code of Food/Feed Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection (hereinafter “Code”) have significantly improved the fundamentals of the state control and the cooperation between public entities and consumers. With these amendments the Code was brought closer to corresponding EU regulations. It must be noted that the drafting of these legislative changes started in late 2012 with the involvement of civil society organizations interested in this issue.
A number of recommendations drawn up by civil society organizations were not taken into account. For example, the state did not take into account a CSO recommendation in which they advised that small-size businesses be provided with a specific status in the Code and to apply the benefits to those enterprises alone which have an annual turnover of up to 100,000 GEL. Under the current wording of the law, benefits are extended to small-size enterprises with an annual turnover of up to 200,000 GEL. This gives rise to a legislative inconsistency, on the one hand, and significantly undermines the protection of consumers on the other hand, because quite a large number of enterprises are eligible for these benefits leaving a large segment of Georgia’s food market left beyond the state control. The EU legislation stipulates that all operators on the food market should be registered, to be under the control of competent authorities and to implement the legislation so as to ensure that its objectives pertaining to food safety are fulfilled. There are also situations in which exemptions from certain hygiene requirements are granted, but these do not depend on the financial situation of the companies, and still, even in such situations, the objective of guaranteeing the food safety must be met/fulfilled. Such examples include traditional products and those sold directly.
A comparative evaluation of the stage of transposition and implementation of the basic regulatory acts of the EU legislation (R CE 178/2002, the hygiene packet, the specific regulations/provisions for different subfields of each act) cannot be achieved as there is no sufficient data regarding the legislative stage in Georgia. However, from the existing data, the RM is in a more advanced stage concerning the legislative harmonization with EU rules. This is, first of all, due to the EU experts, the support from international organizations (FAO, UNDP) and the EU.
Nevertheless, for uniform interpretation the current legislation of the RM shows contradictions and inconsistencies compared to the EU legislation, and therefore, it must be carefully analyzed and revised by a team of lawyers from all institutions involved. A department could be created at the Ministry of Agriculture and at the Ministry of Health with specialists who should be in charge exclusively of the problem of revising the legislation to achieve approximation with EU rules. They could also maintain the connection with the Ministry of European integration so as to be permanently in contact with up-to-date EU legislation. This approach was also applied in Romania during the years of pre-accession to the EU.
Although a large part of the legislation has been absorbed into the legislation of Moldova, entrepreneurs and consumers have not been informed and prepared adequately for the changes. The fact that there are still contradictory or inconsistent/double provisions creates confusion among the stakeholders and also delays in the process of implementing EU legislation. Moreover, the inspectors themselves do not always know the EU legislation they are responsible for, so it is necessary that especially the local ones should be trained.
The incomplete transposition of EU legislation creates the image of a system that does not function, diminishing the trust of the citizens from these two countries in the EU legislation and the benefits of its application. An exchange of experience could be made between the public authorities and the civil society from the two countries, and the RM could share its own experience regarding the legislative transposition, the difficulties encountered, and the lessons learned which should be used by the authorities from Georgia. Thus, Georgia could be supported, also benefiting from the Romanian experience through Moldova, to devise a plan with realistic measures, adequate for the implementation of the provisions of the association agreement.
5. The organization of the official control system
5.1. Planning / prioritization of controls
The EU food law R CE 882/2004 expressly stipulates the obligation of the competent authorities involved in food safety area to plan and conduct controls based on risk criteria. The selection of economic agents to be controlled and the method of conducting controls must be made in accordance with the estimated level of risk that they pose. This enables the increase of effectiveness of the official control activity, directing the controls and resources towards the FBO with high risk, encouraging operators complying with the rules and increasing product safety and consumer health. These aspects should be mentioned in the multiannual plans that have to be prepared in accordance with EC R 882/2004. These plans are adopted with a view to achieving integration of control plans of all authorities involved in the official control of foodstuffs and animal feed, animal health and welfare, plant health and their coordination so that there are no “gaps” and overlaps in the food chain.
The EU legal provisions have been transposed in the RM legislation but details on how to implement these requirements should be included in subsidiary legislation or other relevant documents. The risk planning itself requires the development of a sectorial methodology to clearly specify the criteria, the gradation and weighting thereof, and how the inspector should use them in order to establish the level of risk of a certain economic agents. In this regard, the legislation in the RM attempts to determine some criteria to be used for planning of controls, but under the general methodology established by the law (GD no. 694 / 2013), NFSA and MAFI have to develop a sectorial methodology on each area of activity, including food safety. Different forms for assessing food business operators (FBO) based on risk including assessment criteria and scores awarded to the FBO controlled were taken from the procedures of NSVFSA from Romania aiming to classify the FBO into low, medium and high risk. Nevertheless, the Surveillance programs for safety of animal and non-animal origin food show that the frequency of controls in processing, storing and marketing companies is not correlated to the level of risk.
In terms of sampling, the products subject to sampling, sampling frequency and place of sampling were taken from the surveillance and control programs of NSVFSA as such, without being adapted to the situation in the Republic of Moldova. Once the automated information system “State record of controls” is developed and implemented, the information on the planned controls is communicated in the form of graphs from the control bodies to the Chancellery, where it is analysed. If several control bodies plan to inspect the same establishments, they are asked to coordinate the actions and to perform joint controls. The electronic system which is not fully functional enables thus avoiding overlaps and excessive controls of operators leading to an increase of their effectiveness but does not allow a check of the manner of prioritizing controls. The data available from the report of Georgia show that NFA issued an annual program of state food safety control, in which lab tests are envisaged.
Until 2013 food safety control was either not conducted at all or was conducted on a very small scale and a clear database on a number of FBOs under the control of NFA is not created, we can assume that no proper risk based criteria for conducting these controls has been elaborated until now. The National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (Center), under the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs maintains disease statistics which are important for the evaluation of food-related risks, the reformation and efficiency of the state’s food safety regulatory system. However, the Center’s statistics are not accurate and cannot be used for envisaging real disease-related risks in the organization of the state regulatory system and in the planning of the state control. In such a setting, talk of the risk based criteria for the control plans is futile. The collection of accurate statistical data in order to obtain a clearer picture of diseases is an important step that should be obtained by improving the cooperation between the NFA and the Center, enabling, in this way, the implementation of a more effective control programs and strategy upon the detection of hotbeds of diseases. Currently, these two entities do not compare and analyze the data jointly. It is important to establish a complete and accurate database with all the FBO under control. The evaluation of the FBOs will have to take place later, in stages, as this activity requires time and important resources.
In the RM, there is a general methodology and several assessment sheets and classification into risk categories but the categorization of FBO has not been done yet while the frequency of controls stipulated by the surveillance programs is not correlated with the degree of risk assigned. High priority should be given to the activity of assessment and classification of FBO based on specific criteria, which requires more time and human resources. Efforts should be taken by the public entities in Georgia in order to obtain more accurate data on the number of food business operators under their control and statistical data on food related risks. It is difficult to speak at this stage about methodology for risk based criteria at the drafting of the control plans.
Neither of the two countries adopted an integrated multiannual national plan, describing the control plans throughout the food chain in an integrated manner, namely in the fields of food and feed, animal health and welfare, plant health and enabling the coverage of all links in the food chain. Both countries need more training and external support on these aspects.
5.2 Procedures for carrying out controls/ Implementation of controls
It was found that an operational procedure for carrying out official controls was developed in the RM by the NFSA. This included the general obligations on the organization of official controls, control methods and techniques (taken from EC R 882/2004), as well as specific information for checking/ auditing the good hygiene practices and procedures based on the HACCP principles for the inspection of establishments, sampling, personnel hygiene, control of documents and checking systems. It also provides the measures to be applied in case of non-compliances and sanctions, although the latter is not stipulated in the legislation.
In addition, there are several types of standardized records of findings and fact-finding reports, which comprise the essential elements to be checked during inspections and enabling a unitary approach by all inspectors. Such documents used by inspectors during controls do not provide sanctions in case of non-compliance with the legal provisions and based on their severity. They provide measures such as suspension of the activity liquidation and informing the Territorial Directorate on completion of works to remedy deficiencies so that the establishment can be rechecked.
There is also a standardized sheet (in the Food Safety Department) for following the recommendations that inspectors should fill in during the control of FBO comprising the following for each of the recommendations: the status of implementation, the date of implementation and, if necessary, the planned date for recheck. A food sampling procedure for microbiological testing in catering units is currently under approval. The control activities should be carried out without prior warning, except audits in accordance with Article 3 (2) of the EC R 882/2004. However, in the Republic of Moldova there is Law no. 131 of 08.06.2012 on state control over business activity stipulating prior announcement of the economic operator about the planned controls under the record of controls (not the unannounced checks).
A public report of the official control of public food, trade and warehouse entities shows that in 2014, over 15000 controls took place, and in more than 60 percent of them warnings were given, and in five percent of the cases minutes were drafted for legal action. Over 11000 samples were taken, of which 15 percent were non-compliant, and about 81000 kg of products were destroyed. According with the information from the activity report of the NFA from Georgia, which main functions include the control of food throughout the country, the Agency’s activities has been increasing over the last few years, especially in 2014. For example, the number of conducted inspections doubled as compared to 2013, the number of food samples tested at labs increased six times and point of food sale being subject to monitoring documented inspections increased by 40 percent. Other food safety improvements could be outlined based on the statistical data obtained from the NFA: the failure of business operators to fulfil NFA recommendations decreased by 9,2 percent as compared to 2013, number of instances of the sale of expired food products decreased by 38,4 percent as compared to 2013.
Despite these achievements many problems still remain unsolved. The largest segment (35 percent) of the violations detected by lab analyses had to do with drinking water. The number of violations detected in honey samples is also quite high – in 30 percent of tested samples. The issue of enterprise inspection by the NFA should be noted. In 2014 the NFA inspected 2705 business operators while there are in total up to 35000 food business operators registered. This represented eight percent of them, which is a significant improvement compared with previous years but the problem is that the data concerning registered food business operators is not accurate. The number of officially registered business operators is just a small number percentage of the total number of enterprises engaged in food production. Considering that until 2013 food safety control was either not conducted at all or was conducted in a very small scale, the amount of current control cannot be considered satisfactory.
Unorganised, unofficial outdoor trade is a widespread phenomenon throughout Georgia that should be eradicate by local self –governments together with other relevant state entities. It will be difficult to tackle this problem without a large-scale consumer education campaign in which all public entities must play their particular roles. The improper evaluation of food related risks makes it difficult to evaluate how adequate and effective the state control of food safety and preventive measures are in this regard.
An operational control procedure and standardized fact-finding reports were adopted in the RM while some sampling procedures for testing parameters are under approval or are still needed. Given the complexity and diversity of the information included in the procedures, it is essential to explain and demonstrate practically for inspectors at regional level, so that they can use them properly.
Many progresses have been registered, especially in 2014, in Georgia in relation with the control activities of the NFA. Nevertheless the amount of current control cannot be considered satisfactory. The improper evaluation of food related risks makes it difficult to evaluate how adequate and effective the state control of food safety and preventive measures are in this regard. Administrative measures and also wide-scale education campaign targeting consumers should be conducted by the local self- governments and relevant entities from the central level in order to tackle the problem of outdoor trade.
5.3. Reporting system / Collection and management of information
Reporting results and in particular the centralization and interpretation of data are important activities based on which the control programs are developed and other decisions are taken by the management. The automated information system “State record of controls” used in the RM for transmitting the information related to the performance of controls to the State Chancellery are complicated and contrary to EU principles on food safety. After performing the controls, the control bodies enter into the Record the data on the initiated planned control, while having direct access to its electronic database of the portal www.controale.gov.md. The State Chancellery analyses and compares the information on the initiated planned controls in the control graphs, the control records, the record and registers for recording the controls in order to ensure that the control records are accurately kept by the control bodies and to monitor the legality of control actions and procedures.
The control bodies also enter in the State record data on the initiated unannounced controls and send them by email to the State Chancellery, while attaching all necessary documents and evidence which would allow the State Chancellery “to monitor the compliance with the requirements for carrying out unannounced checks, established by Law. The procedure aims at checking whether the planned controls have been actually performed, whether the control actions comply with the national legislation and ensure transparency to people, but it does not enable verification of the manner of performing official controls and whether they are effective, as required by Article 8 (3) of EC R 882/2004 transposed into the national legislation (Article 7(3) of Law no. 50/2013). Such checks should be performed by NFSA by adopting procedures enabling this assessment both by submitting reports to the territorial level and by on-site visits.
Order no 247/ 10.01.2014 established a graph for the transmission of reports for 2014 from the local level to the central level followed by working meetings aimed at increasing effectiveness of food safety monitoring and surveillance actions. Reports are transmitted in electronic form according to the state control records. Order no. 4/2014 approved the forms for the reports in the field of supervision of food business operators (FBO) producing vegetable products. Thus, the following should be reported for certain types of FBO (bakery, fruits and vegetables, fruit juices and soft drinks): number of FBO in that territory, number of FBO assessed, number of FBO registered, number of FBO controlled, number of FBO with ceased activity. Moreover, the structures within the territorial subdivisions have to report the number of investigations conducted, number of samples taken, non-compliances and assessment results.
To perform collection and management of information, the NFA from Georgia used, until recently, two main databases run by other entities – the Electronic Integrated Disease Surveillance System and the Public Registry database – to identify food business operators. Serious shortcomings were revealed in terms of the efficient use of the first program. In regard to the second database, the practice has shown to have serious flaws because food business operators often do not declare, or incorrectly declare, the relation of their activities with food products, thereby making it difficult to first identify and then, control them. To overcome this problem, employees of regional NFA departments conduct commence double-checking of operating business operators on site. In parallel to this activity, the Public Registry database must be revised. Apart from these databases there is a need to develop other electronic databases, including the establishment of a backup system of existing data, in order to ensure the efficient operation of the NFA.
In the RM, the system provided for reporting in advance the planned checks and afterwards the results thereof from the control bodies to the Government, for assessing data and for monitoring and coordinating the controls by the State Chancellery where overlaps occur is complicated. It does not enable flexibility depending on the market developments or related to risk and in particular and it does not enable the qualitative assessment of the manner of performance of official controls and subsequently implementation of measures to improve them. Although the NFA from Georgia used some electronic database to collect data on food disease and evidence of food business operators, there is a need for an improved electronic system to ensure the efficient operation of the NFA.
5.4. Measures taken in case of non-compliances
According with the EU regulation R EC 882/2004, rules on sanctions should be established to infringements of food law. The sanctions provided for must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Currently the RM legislation provides a difficult and inefficient mechanism to sanction economic operators, when the NFSA finds that the legislation is not complied with, which involves conducting a trial and granting sanctioning powers only to the trial court. It is actually the case of the public interest (the life or health of the population) versus the right of defense and access to justice of the economic operator. In such circumstances, it is necessary to identify that balance that would satisfy both needs, taking also into consideration art. 55 paragraph (1) of (EC) Regulation no. 882/ 2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29.04.2004 establishing effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
Measures taken in case of non-compliance with legislation applicable to food business operators stipulated in EU legislation on coercive measures are transposed into national law and include restricting or banning food imports, withdrawal/ destruction / use for other purposes of the products on the market, suspension or shutdown of establishments. There is a detailed procedure in place on the suspension of FBO when they do not comply with the authorization requirements established by sanitary veterinary rules. The following is provided: “The establishment shall be given a period of 20 days from the time of transmitting the notice, to remedy the non-conformities, while the sanitary veterinary authorization shall be suspended if it fails to remedy them. Following the suspension of the sanitary veterinary authorization, the territorial competent authority which ordered the suspension shall address the court, according to Art. 17 of Law no. 235-XVI /2006 on the basic principles regulating entrepreneurial activity. ”
On the other hand, there are no rules on sanctions in place (as stipulated in Article 55 of the EC R no. 882/2004) applicable, depending on the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance, to infringements of the food legislation, including that not referring to the authorization requirements. Such rules should cover all types of non-compliances and should ensure that sanctions applied are proportionate on them. Currently, when non-compliances with the legal requirements are found, the state sanitary veterinary supervision bodies issue offence notices, which shall be submitted for examination to the competent court. The sanctions are thus applied at a later date meaning that they are not effective and dissuasive, as provided by the EU legislation. Many debates took place in Georgia in relation with the fines envisaged in the Code, which are considered largely inadequate by CSOs. On the one hand, a violator may find it much cheaper to pay fines than to observe the requirements of the law because the amounts of fines do not, as a rule, take into account the scale of the given violation or the financial standing of the violator. Equal fines imposed on both small- and large-scale enterprises for identical violations is a disproportional sanction and favors larger enterprises to the detriment of small-scale enterprises, rendering them much less competitive.
New legislation developed in the RM by the NFSA stipulates the measures to be taken in case of infringements of the legislation by operators in the sector, but there are no rules on sanctions in place applicable in an effective, proportionate and dissuasive manner. The NFSA inspectors may not apply sanctions; they transmit the offence notices to the court, which in our opinion is not an effective and sufficiently deterrent procedure in order to prevent nonconformities from recurring.
Closer cooperation between central public authorities (MAFI, MH, ME) is needed to develop efficient and qualitative public policies, taking into consideration the proposals and recommendations of the NFSA and the civil society, for the harmonization of the legislation of the RM with that of the EU.
The value of fines in Georgia, as provided in the Code, does not take into consideration the scale of a given violation, a fact that is not in compliance with EU rules, which stipulate that the fines should be proportionate and effective.
For each type of infringement of the legislation, in Romania the legislation stipulates an amount of sanction that could vary between a minimum and a maximum limit. Thus, the inspector could apply the sanction based on the scale of violation and risk analyses carried out on the spot. Legislation on sanctions should be revised in both countries, as soon as possible, as inadequate sanctions could decrease the efficiency of the official control and maintain the non- compliances found.
5.5. Management of food emergencies/rapid alert system
In the RM as well as in Georgia, there is no proper system of communication and transmission of information between the structures at central and local level for situations where direct or indirect risks to human health are identified in different regions. This problem is particularly serious because it does not prevent, eliminate or minimize the risks of placing unsafe products on the market, when they occur or are likely to occur. A network and a rapid alert system for the urgent transmission of information between all competent authorities involved in official control and also vertically, namely to and from the territorial structures should be established as soon as possible. A national contact point should be established at the central level, within food safety authorities, having the responsibility to coordinate this network. The national contact point should be linked to the EU network consisting of national contact points from all EU member states. This will facilitate trade with safe food products towards and from the EU market and will contribute to the solving of food incidents when they appear.
The legal requirements regarding the obligation to develop contingency plans to be activated in crisis / potential crisis situations caused by food are transposed in the RM, but such a plan has not been developed so far. The contingency plan should be adopted by all structures involved in the management of crisis situations and subsequently, in order to become operational, several simulations should be organized. These plans should set out the measures to be taken in such situations, the authorities involved, responsibilities, procedures and communication channels between them. Food safety authorities (NFSA and NFA) should act as a coordinator of the measures to be undertaken and to call for dialogue the other structures involved. Great importance should be granted to the establishment of such plans as it contributes to the prevention or decreasing of the negative impact in such cases. Meanwhile, in preparation of the contingency plan, the cooperation and coordination between different competent authorities will be improved, with positive effects on official control.
In Georgia, although there is some collaboration between the Centre and the NFA, the problem is that, in the event of an epidemic outburst, each entity acts independently. The exchange of information between the Center and the NFA takes place with such delays that it often becomes impossible to identify the source of the disease or to examine the affected people. It is necessary for the Center and the NFA to modify their respective approaches towards their activities at times of epidemic outburst and to start acting jointly.
There are no proper tools and procedures in place to be used in the management of crisis / potential crisis situations generated by food. It is essential to develop the cooperation and coordination between the public entities involved, to prevent or decrease the impact for the public health in such cases.
6. Verifications and audit activities
The EC Regulation 882/2004 stipulates that procedures for verification of the manner of performing official controls and their effectiveness should be in place (art 8(3)) and internal audits should be performed to assess the official control system.(art 4(6)). These obligations should be understood as very useful tools for management in developing policies and performing controls, by the supply of information that the organization can use to improve its performance. Objective identification of “gaps” and the causes thereof in a professional manner by the auditors, followed by the development of relevant sufficient conclusions and action plans to address the non-compliances will enable the acceleration of the development of the activity of public entities involved in food safety area.
The audit department established in the RM within the NFSA is responsible for organising internal audits of official control, as provided for by Art 4 of Law 50/2013. The Audit structure reports directly to the Director General of the NFSA while the audit activity takes place under a procedure posted on the website of the NFSA, thus guaranteeing the independence and transparency principles. The audit procedure adopted describes the principles and stages for performing the audit, responsibilities of the audit structure at central level, of the audit team and of the audited territorial structures. Audits, as provided in the audit program, addressed only to the territorial structures will not allow the assessment of a control system, but only of the manner of implementation by staff at the local level of the legislation and instructions received from the central level.
This can be a first step but audits will need to develop so that to assess the activity both at central and territorial level. It is essential that sufficient human resources are allocated for this structure and auditors are competent and well trained in specific areas so that audits bring added value to the official control activities. To prepare audits adequately and to increase effectiveness of their results, area-specific audit sheets (lists of questions) and questionnaires need to be prepared and addressed to the audited structures before the audit.
There is no system of verification of official control and audits performed by the public entities in Georgia. As at this stage official controls are not sufficiently developed where we can assume that these activities will be given attention in a later stage.
Verification and audit activities are not yet developed in Georgia and are still in an early phase of operation in the RM. It is essential that sufficient and trained personnel are allocated for the development of these activities so that “added value” to be brought, understanding the development of official control and related activities. Support could be given to accelerate this process either by Romanian Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority and/or by the NFSA, from the RM, but this issue should be addressed in a later stage when the database with operators is real and the official control system is more developed.
7. Conclusions and recommendations
This chapter describes general conclusions and recommendations for the RM and Georgian governments while those specific for the main elements of the food safety regulation have been already presented in the above chapters. The obligation of the RM and Georgian governments for implementing SPS rules comes from the quality of member states of the WTO and aims for the protection of their consumers and tourists. The sanitary and phytosanitary legislation of the RM and Georgia should gradually be harmonized with that of the EU and WTO standards based on the EU list of approximation of sanitary and phytosanitary legislation. Currently, many of the legislative documents on food safety from Republic of Moldova and Georgia are not yet fully equivalent to the EU legislation. In some cases, for certain segments, the EU legislation is transposed but the previous one is maintained or the transposition is not appropriate, thus creating confusion and difficulty in their implementation.
Food safety authorities from both countries registered progresses in the last years, in relation with the administrative capacity but great efforts should be made to train the personnel and then to maintain them. In order to implement the legislation in this area it is necessary to intensify efforts and to assign the measures to stages, taking into account the priorities identified for the export to the EU of certain products such as eggs and fruits and, in relation to this, allocation of financial resources for the specialization of laboratories and specific analyses. Due to the close relationship between experts in the Republic of Moldova and the EU, progress was made, particularly in terms of cooperation and establishment of mixed teams between the NFSA, MAFI and MS, possibly leading to the formation of the necessary prerequisites for the amendment, dissemination and implementation of the current legislation. Having such experience, it’s necessary also for Georgia to identify additional opportunities for accessing EU funds in order to enable the training of specialists. The civil society could also be involved in these actions.
Although there is no perfect scheme to pass from Soviet legislation to EU legislation which is based on the risk assessment, preventive measures in favour of protection of consumers, we recommend phasing actions, as follows:
Approximation of the legislation according with the Association Agreements
The process of transposition of the EU legislation needs to be intensified. Greater efforts and more resources should be made available by the ministries in Georgia to adopt the big volume of EU food safety legislative framework and the revision of the actual national legislation should be done in the RM in order to avoid non-compliances or duplications. Conflicting provisions should disappear and competences should be clarified and defined, in a uniform manner, in all documents in which it appear.
We recommend the adoption of EU legislation to be completed as soon as possible and afterwards the food business operators should be given a varying period of time, depending on the resources required, for its implementation. To fulfil the obligations assumed under the EU Association Agreements, the ministries must assign human resources dealing full time with the revision of normative framework in food safety area.
Priority should be given to the harmonisation of the legislation on crises management/potential crisis situations generated by food. Currently in RM there is no any document or preparation for such situations. The establishment of a network between public entities (ex. food safety authority and ministry of health) and a rapid alert system to transmit the information of a direct or indirect risk to human health would lead to a decrease of food borne diseases. In order to facilitate the trade, especially the export of the products, an efficient certification is important, thus the connection at European TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) network, the adoption of the related legislation, certified models, trainings for the staff should be realised.
Promoting food safety among civil society, consumers and food business operators
Food business operators and citizens of the RM and Georgia should be informed on each law and its benefits, so they understand that the implementation of the new legislative framework and principles will protect them. The public entities in the field of food safety need to explain to the food business operators that such tasks lead to safe production activity and food consumption; meanwhile, the competitiveness to the export and confidence of the consumers in the products from the market are increased. The stakeholders need to be informed and consulted still in draft stage of the legislation, their role being particularly important in the process of transposing and adapting the legislation to the conditions of their country. That is why the dialog should take place in parallel with the transposition activities.
There should be a permanent dialogue both with representatives of food business operators and mass media on the nature of actual or potential risk on the market. Contact persons should be established and protocols with employers’ associations may be adopted or advisory committees may be organized for regular debates on the relevant issues. The NFA from Georgia has developed the activities in the last year, and thus it‘s necessary to promote its mission and roles and to demonstrate its contribution to the public health for increasing the notoriety to the public.
The civil society should be considered as an equal partner in this process of approximation with EU legislation. In this context, taking into consideration that civil society is closer to the “language” of consumers and the staff from the ministries are seen as less flexible. Keeping in mind the Soviet period, we strongly consider this society could have an important role in the acceleration of the process toward the EU, being able and credible to facilitate the dialog between public entities and stakeholders. Together with the civil society, it will be necessary for the public entities from RM to examine the possibility of establishing a clear and effective system and procedures so as to avoid bureaucracy and to resolve petitions in a timely manner. A legislative act clearly establishing procedures for performing checks, clear and limited terms for solving petitions, operative procedures for responding in case of requests from consumers (associations) needs to be developed and approved at national level.
Strengthening the official controls
Although the fundamentals of the official controls have been adopted in legislation, currently the scale of food safety control and preventive measures cannot be considered satisfactory in neither of the countries. The capacity to implement the legislation adopted should be increased. Taking into account that the statistics on food related risks are too general and sometimes unreliable and even data concerning registered FBOs is not accurate in Georgia while the number of cases of food poisoning is increasing in both countries, demonstrate that the official controls are at an early stage and inefficient. The assessment and the risk classification of the FBO in both countries are not carried out and thus programs for surveillance and controls are not risk based.
In order to be able to improve the scale and the efficiency of the official controls the following steps should be followed:
-Database on the FBOs should be reliable; the obligation of registration of all FBO placing products on the market should be included in the law, in this way the food safety authorities being able to have a clear picture on the necessary resources and prepare an adequate control plan;
– Evaluation and risk based classification of the FBOs and clear rules should be established to perform controls at frequencies based on the identified risk;
– Risk based control and surveillance programs; the controls would be focused to the FBOs where serious risk was identified and so resources will be optimised;
– Data collection and management should be gradually developed, with the support of IT systems; the data will be used in future planning of the control activities;
– Establishment of effective sanctioning rules, proportional to the seriousness of the infringement and with a sufficiently deterrent effect should be also priorities for the governments, being measures without which official controls couldn’t be effective.
The analysis of the administrative capacity of the competent authorities has shown the need to develop the laboratory infrastructure and the customs points, in both countries. Lack of accredited methods and adequate equipment in the laboratories and BIPs question the outcome of the official controls and could lead to the implementation of inappropriate measure, with negative effects in terms of competitiveness of the products on the EU market and risk to consumers in these countries. At the selection of the laboratories involved in the official controls it must take into consideration the compliance with the accreditation requirement, according with ISO 17025.
Cooperation between all competent authorities involved in the official food control coordinated by the NFSA and respectively NFA is essential in increasing the capacity of implementation of the legislation and developing efficient controls. These authorities should exercise their coordination capacity by involving representatives from all authorities involved in the organization of official controls aimed at analysing and developing jointly multiannual integrated control plans and discussing other aspects related to the implementation of these plans. It would be useful to organize an inter-institutional committee to debate aspects related to double controls and to identify optimal ways of implementing the requirements on official controls and their improvement. Close attention should be granted to monitoring programs for residues. This plan should be based on the risks identified and then promoted for approval to EU, been also possible to extend the export of foods.
Serious problems might occur in situations where products with risks or potential risks for the consumers’ health are identified. In these situations, food incidents could escalate and could cause increased stress among people, illnesses, economic losses for operators and even loss of consumer confidence in the public authorities. In cases where the risks are severe and / or is spread over a large territory, control activities should be intensified and coordinated actions should be performed. That is why crisis structures should be established during the “peacetime” and operational response plans should be prepared for such situations and will enable rapid and effective response from the public entities.
Establishment of the audit system to verify the effectiveness of the official controls
The performance of such activities should take place only after an accurate database concerning registered food business operators is created in Georgia and food safety regulation and official controls becomes more developed in both countries. The audit activities will check then how the legal requirements transposed are implemented, aimed at continuously improving and increasing effectiveness of the official control activity.