Belgian foodstuffs ban puts burden on councils

10 Jun 99
The burden of policing the European Commission ban on Belgian meat and dairy produce will impose fresh pressure on councils.

11 June 1999

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued emergency orders to local authorities last week in Europe's biggest food scare since Britain's BSE crisis three years ago.

Environmental health officers have been granted powers to inspect and enforce the EC ban on Belgian foodstuffs. This was initially limited to poultry and eggs and later extended to pork, beef and dairy products following contamination by cancer-causing dioxins.

A Maff spokeswoman said it was now the responsibility of councils to ensure that all banned food was removed from the shelves of supermarkets and other local businesses.

'The European Commission requires all member states to trace the banned food through the supply chain and ensure it is not sold to consumers,' she said. 'Councils must now enforce the food hazard warnings we have issued over the past few days.'

The Local Authority Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards has been advising councils on the issue. Policy officer Phil Sheppard said the emergency orders mean that it is an offence if businesses do not comply with the regulations.

The problem for local authorities is ensuring that smaller businesses are aware of the problem. Sheppard said: 'Because of the publicity, many of the larger retailers have already removed the foodstuffs from their shelves. However, local food businesses and small business enterprises will not have been alerted other than by national press publicity, and councils must ensure that information is available and the ban is enforced.'

Some councils were more alert than others to their new responsibilities. Sheffield City Council said its health protection officers were dealing with businesses to make sure everyone was aware of the restrictions.

Health protection manager Steve Webster said: 'We want to ensure all businesses know it is illegal to sell any of the banned products. It is now the responsibility of businesses to investigate the origins of their food stocks. Any food from Belgium must be removed immediately and suppliers contacted to determine if these foods are covered in any way by the restrictions.'

The London Borough of Islington's environmental health officers have been visiting food businesses as part of their routine work.

A spokeswoman said: 'All food premises have to be visited to make sure they comply with current food safety requirements, and our officers have enforced the ban in this way. Visits to premises make up a large part of the work of environmental health officers.'


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