Forum and Study Visit in Lushnje: Consumer Protection-Food Safety and the impact on the environment due to Food Industry activity

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European Movement in Albania in partnership with the Slovak Embassy in Albania in the framework of National Convention on EU Integration conducted on March 16th, a study visit followed by a discussion forum focused on “Consumer Protection and Food Safety and the impact on the environment due to Food Industry activity“.

During the visit in one of the meat factories in the country that has met all the standards set by the European Union on food safety and quality, youth participants and students were introduced more closely to the procedure of meat processing, explaining all the stages from growth to cleaning and then delivering to the market for consumption. During the visit, participants visited the respective facilities and got acquainted with the whole process. Throughout the visit a discussion was held between participants and experts about some major issues related to monitoring the standards and the safety, to produce a final safe product to be consumed, fulfilling  this way in a successful manner the cycle “from farm to table.

After the visit, a discussion forum was held between the experts and the participants.

Mr. Gledis Gjipali, Executive Director of European Movement in Albania made a brief presentation of the initiative and the importance that this activity has not only on informing and involving the youth, but also to introduce the process of European Integration on important fields like consumer protection and food safety. Another innovation is the fact that these activities will be held not only in Tirana like it is likely to happen in most of the cases, but also in other cities where these topics are more vulnerable and sensitive. This is the reason why Lushnja is selected as an important city when it comes in development of agricultural or animal food production.

Mrs. Luljeta Çuko, an expert at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, provided a clear picture not only of the national legislation and its latest developments, but as well she analysed the shortcomings and the process Albanian institutions must follow to meet all he demands required by European Union. According to Ms. Çuko, food safety is the only issue that cannot be negotiated, but should be fully met by the Albanian government. On the other hand she made a distinction between product quality and its safety, noting that no matter how qualitative a food may be, first of all it must necessarily be safe. An important step taken recently by Albanian authorities is the division into four categories of facilities that process food in Albania. Thus according to Ms. Çuko they are divided into four levels: in level A (will be involved all the facilities that fulfil most of the criteria and it is only required an investment in less than 30%), B, C and in category D will enter those operators that don’t meet any requirements, for example dairies. Mentioning the institutions in charge of food safety and consumer protection in Albania, she made a clear distinction between the Ministry as a policy-making institution and the National Food Authority as an implementing and monitoring institution. In conclusion she emphasized that Albania is developing its legislation to comply with the relevant EU regulations in relation with food and food security, most specifically regarding Regulation 178/2002.

Mr. Florian Xhafa, lawyer and expert in the field of Consumer Protection, analyzed the structure and elements of the legislation that this field contains. Emphasizing the fact that food security is only a part of Consumer Protection, he explained briefly the rights deriving from private rights, such as the right to live, health and economic development. While the first two rights include the relationship between production and consumer, the last includes the relationship between the operator and production. Other rights are the right of information and participation, as well as the right to appeal. Two institutions are responsible to receive complaints: the Consumer Protection Agency and the AKU. Yet to send a complaint is necessary to follow the appropriate procedures. An important element in the speech of Mr. Xhafa was determining the responsibility for product safety: whether this is the responsibility of the state and its respective authorities, or of the private institutions (ranging from farmer, transporter, vendor, and customer). According to Mr. Xhafa responsibility is not on the hands of a public entity, but to that of private operators, noting that the only responsibility that state institutions have is to identify where the problem is in the process chain from farm to table. For this it is essential the functioning of the system of traceability that makes a lot easier the identification of such problems.

The event was followed by questions and comments between the participants, who were very interested to discus on practical dimension of the topic, and not only on theoretical ones.