WG III, Session 1: Food safety and standards required in the framework of European integration, 09 December 2020

Photo WG III, Session 1

On December 9, 2020, the European Movement in Albania (EMA), The Albanian Parliament and the Technical Secretariat of the National Council for European Integration (KKIE) in partnership with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, with the financial support of SlovakAid, organized Session 1 of Working Group III on “Food safety and standards required in the framework of  European integration”.

Working Group III, thanks to the experience of experts, is examining topics in the field of agriculture, rural development and food safety, foreseeing a further process of reform and accession to the EU focusing on the chapters of the EU Acquis, namely Chapter 11 and Chapter 12. In this first session, Food Safety in Albania, the challenges for achieving the standards and policies undertaken, as well as the need for cooperation between state and non-state actors in this field were selected for discussion. This session also produced recommendations and suggestions regarding the selected topic and issues related to the legal framework; institutional capacity and handling of issues.

Gledis Gjipali, the Executive Director of EMA, opened Session 1 for Working Group III of the Convention. He offered a brief explanation about the National Convention on European Integration, where he stressed that through it, the aim is to create a bridge of cooperation between important public institutions in the integration process such as the Government and Parliament of Albania on one hand and groups of interest,  like civil society and academic networks, on the other one, while it is known that both of them will their benefits and costs from this process. He also said that it is very important that these bridges of cooperation help as much as possible in advancing the integration process, by first, being well-informed and then, by contributing to the consultation process.

Mrs. Vasilika Hysi, Deputy Head of the Albanian Parliament and member of the National Council for European Integration, was the guest of honour who started her speech by assessing this kind of activities. To her this joint activity is very valuable as it is not focused on the most discussed chapters, but highlights other chapters of EU Acquis that also affect human rights, one of which is food safety. Regarding Parliament’s role in this process, she said that the latter plays an important role not only in the process of integration and negotiations, but also in the field of food safety and the quality of life of citizens. She stressed that the cooperation of the Parliament with civil society and other actors extends to five important areas which specifically include:

  1. Approximation of Albanian legislation with that of the EU;
  2. Strengthening parliamentary oversight, monitoring and controlling the implementation of obligations and reforms that the Albanian state has undertaken in the framework of membership;
  3. Promoting the European integration process through inter-parliamentary cooperation and informing the public, where Mrs. Hysi noted that in the field of food safety there is still work to be done in the area of informing and raising public awareness regarding the requirements for food safety.
  4. Obtaining the opinions of the stakeholders and civil society organizations in the legislative process and parliamentary control where according to Ms. Hysi, as the capacities of the Assembly cannot provide specialized knowledge in the field of food safety, their contribution is necessary.
  5. Budgeting -This field, according to her, requires specialized institutions and human resources and funds for information and awareness. In this context, she also added that she would assess the role of civil society and institutions in addressing through, concrete recommendations to signal those aspects of work that do not function in public institutions charged and specialized to achieve food safety.

Regarding the legislation, Ms. Hysi stressed that the Albanian Parliament has reviewed and approved during 2019-2020, five laws in the field of food safety. Through cooperation with civil society, groups of interest and public consultation, it has become possible through the law adopted in 2019 “On quality schemes of agricultural and food products”, to enable fair competition for farmers, necessary information for consumers as well as reviewing and consolidating the respective tasks and competencies of the responsible bodies. She also added that this law has been aligned with the EU Regulation of 2012. Regarding violations in the field of food safety, she added that in 2019 changes were made to the Criminal Code, where three new criminal offenses were added related to the case. She also called for opinions and recommendations from the public consultation phase on the new Criminal Code being drafted by the Ministry of Justice, addressing the need for a new, modern code, in which food safety and quality of life should be included assessed as relevant. Regarding the new innovations in the field of legislation, she said that the Assembly has a Committee on the productive activity of trade and the environment which has reviewed the law on food where important changes have been made. Another important law according to her is the newly approved law on “Disorders of iodine deficiency in the human body”, which needs to be monitored. The latest law adopted in 2020 is “On Additions and Amendments to the Law on Sanitary Inspection”, which is of particular importance especially in pandemic conditions, she added. In the end, she stressed the need for an action plan that can include as many organizations as possible that can look at these problems from different perspectives, using all the opportunities offered by the Parliament and to give their contribution on the online public consultation platform for new bills.

Mrs. Elda Zenelaj, Director of the Technical Secretariat of KKIE, initially made a presentation of the National Council for European Integration, where one of its tasks is to promote and guarantee comprehensive cooperation between political forces, public institutions and CSOs and  to increase the transparency of decision-making on European integration issues. Regarding transparency, she said that in addition to the live broadcast, the Council also publishes the minutes of the meetings. Regarding civil society organizations, she added that by unanimous decision, the Council has increased their number to 18. Currently, the National Council for European Integration consists of 52 members, where in addition to members of parliaments there are also representatives of civil society, groups of interest and the academy. At the end of the presentation, Mrs. Zenelaj, was open to continue the organization of such activities, not only in the field of food safety, but also in other areas.

Mr. Florian Xhafa, Internal Expert of the National Convention in Albania for the Working Group III, made a presentation on some of the key points of the standards related to food safety and the evolution of the European integration process. He was focused on four main points of food safety and developments in this field in Albania, not only in legal terms, but also in law enforcement. He also added that in terms of the EU, he will focus on the free movement of goods between member states which is important for Albania as we understand two aspects that are affected by food safety: the field of public health and the free movement of goods. Regarding the first aspect, the food safety legislation in Albania has progressed relatively well, being in line with the EU Food Safety Acquis, especially with the regulations, because unlike many EU areas where the member states choose the forms of regulation themselves, food safety is regulated at the community level. So Member States have almost completely relinquished their sovereignty over Community law, which decides on the food safety of these states. Regarding the Albanian legislation, Mr. Xhafa said that it has been harmonised with the EU law starting from the Hygiene Regulation of 2002, which is the basic regulation of the law on food safety in the EU. He also added that there are some elements of food safety in Albania that make the impact of the adoption of this legislation, which has to do with the way this legislation is implemented, somewhat inviolable. Regarding the EU Hygiene Regulation which we harmonised in 2008, there are several principles that make its implementation impossible, one of which is the control of food from farm to the table, where Albania does not have a single authority responsible for this control. This control in Albania is carried out by three authorities which are both as independent as interconnected, so this control which is naturally unique in the EU, we have fragmented it and this is an issue  as most of the problems regarding  food safety are related with products of animal origin. The second principle of the hygiene regulation is related to the risk analysis, where Albania presents problems because even today we still do not have an analytical plan for food safety. The third principle, which has to do with the main responsibility, that of the producers, is related to the fourth principle which is traceability. The fifth principle, added Mr. Xhafa, is the information, which should be public, as it has to do with the basic right of citizens to be informed, but even though we have these information systems in law, in practice they are missing.  Regarding the second aspect, that of free movement of goods, Albania in 1992 approved the free trade agreement, where products of animal origin can be traded freely in the EU. However, Albania trades only a few products certified at the industry level, while products of animal origin are not exported outside Albania, he stressed. For this issue he blames the inability of the Albanian state to guarantee a single authoritative veterinary control, as happens in the EU.

Mr. Agim Rrapaj, Chairman of the Albanian Agribusiness Council (KASH) presented an overview of the key issues addressed in this area. He began his speech with a short presentation regarding the Albanian Agribusiness Council, which this year marks its 20th anniversary. Food safety, he added, is a key part of several links such as: farmer (agriculture), livestock (husbandry), fishing and aquaculture, agribusiness, agro-processing (food industry), beekeeping and environment, medicinal plants, agro-livestock markets and finally microfinance, where he also stressed the need for a law regarding the mentioned links. Then Mr. Rrapaj, addressed the problems for each link, starting with the farmer and the importance of information, as these farmers have extraordinary potentials which are proven by the non-return of trucks during 2020, of fruits and vegetables in EU countries. In terms of fisheries and aquaculture, he said the government has paid special attention to it, doubling the area’s budget, indicating that the sector is already in export but is facing difficulties from the pandemic. A problem he raised is related to the Saranda mussel, which for bureaucratic reasons of not being traceable, does not enable export. He then switched to agribusiness, collection centers, which are the main key of the food chain and we must continue to strengthen them by increasing them in quantity. Currently there are 227 centers, out of 20-30 that were 7-8 years ago. From the quantitative point of view we have completed the map, but from the qualitative one we still have problems, “as they are still incomplete with the necessary mechanisms and especially with the issue of laboratories, which in addition not only they are closely related to food safety, but also related to exports.” If we had accredited laboratories for our products”, he added. “We would have solved a big problem in the chain links, especially in private investments, because they cannot invest if there is no laboratory, where in addition to modern buildings, huma resources are needed”. He mentioned another problem with these centers, which is informality, where according to old statistics, out of 354 000 farmers, about 15% of them have a NIPT, while 85% do not have this. He also noted that the law ‘On agricultural cooperatives’ is from 2012 and has no amendments, no instructions and cannot be implemented, so either it should be removed from the scene of laws or it should be amended to be really functional. Regarding beekeeping and medicinal plants, Mr. Rrapaj said that Albania has a lot of potential, but the problem lies in certification, where the right solution according to him would be group certification and not the individual one. Regarding the agro-livestock markets, he said that they are the weakest link, especially the livestock ones, where out of 33 livestock markets, only 2 meet the criteria. In conclusion, he said that if the budget on private investment is reviewed and increased, it will be possible for words not to remain on paper, but to become reality.

Mr. Matej Struhar, the Slovak expert on food safety presented the Slovak experience and the lessons that can be learned and used on the road to the European integration process. Food security, he said, is one of the priorities of the EU and at the same time of Slovakia. These priorities are set out in the ‘White Paper on Food Safety’, which is a document on food safety in the EU and contains: the principles of food safety, essential elements of food safety policy, establishment of a food safety authority, regulatory aspects, controls and consumer information. Regarding the main issues related to food safety, he mentioned the compliance with the requirements for the production, processing, transport and storage of feed, compliance with feed requirements, adherence to nutritional conditions, techniques and hygiene of animal husbandry, compliance with requirements for production, processing, transport, storage of food and compliance with food requirements (health safety). He also explained the main principles related to enabling food safety such as: monitoring of raw materials and food at all stages during the entire process of food production to the final consumer, elimination of risks during the entire process of food production to the consumer, existence of mechanisms for the rapid implementation of effective measures throughout the process to reduce and eliminate threats to consumer health and interaction of factors, determination of conditions, controls, supervision, consumption. Regarding the document which contains the main principles of food safety, he said that this document was drafted according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which enables the provision of independent scientific advice and support for EU law / policies on food safety, ensuring timely independent communication of risk and promoting scientific cooperation. Regarding the system of creating the European law on food safety, he said that this system consists of several bodies, starting with the European Scientific Community, DG Sante – Health Directorate of the European Commission, Member States, Council and Parliament. Mr. Struhar also noted Slovakia’s cooperation with ESFA. The Department of Safety and Food of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic performs the duties of the Office of Food Safety and the function of the national contact point for scientific and technical cooperation with EFSA. Slovakia provides EFSA with a scientific base represented by 9 Slovak organizations. In terms of inspections, the supervisory authorities in Slovakia are under the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. He underlined that the main thing during the inspections is the monitoring and compliance with the legislation. During his presentation, he also paid attention to the tracking process. Traceability, according to him, means the ability to trace and track a food or manufacturing substance that is intended to be included or expected to be included in a food, through all stages of production, processing and distribution. The traceability system is based on the collection number which contains information on the date of manufacture. In conclusion, regarding the question of how the European Commission ensures the safety and quality of food and agricultural products, he said that this is done through origin and traceability, designations and standards, packaging, maintenance and transportation, certification, health safety, announcements on the RASFF portal regarding the risks, regional and international co-operation and fraud monitoring.

You may watch the activity on YouTube following this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zKwS9SJopc&list=PLo5-u0UaQgmyTuCLRbzLJh4xgggMHPCOe&index=3