The French food safety system is traditionally based on several principles, such as the integrated “field to fork” approach, operator responsibility, product identification and traceability. The objective of this system is to ensure food safety and quality, animal health and welfare, and plant protection and well-being.
In 2010, COFRAC, the French accreditation body endorsed French veterinary and phytosanitary services on the basis of ISO/CEI 17020, acknowledging their qualities: rigor, good organization and operation, transparency and a modern approach.
The French system has a single chain of command based in Paris. The French Directorate General for Food (DGAL) has a national workforce of 5,500. This Directorate works very closely with the French Directorate General for Competition, Consumer affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF), in charge of labeling rules, quality grading, controlling pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables, etc.
In addition, the system relies on a diverse range of competencies, including 14,000 approved sanitary veterinarians, 25 national reference laboratories and over one hundred specialized test laboratories.
One of the characteristics of this system is the smart use of local actors including veterinarians and breeders that play the role of “sentinels”: they can detect outbreaks very quickly and immediately alert the competent authorities. This feature helps explain the ability of the French system to control outbreaks and is now being developed in other countries.
Every year, France implements several control plans dealing with foodstuff contamination of plant and/or animal origin. Inspectors also control all of the establishments and premises that are part of the food supply chain. Special inspections are conducted during the Christmas and summer holidays.
Monitoring and control plans provide a key indicator for the safety of foodstuffs and at the same time add value to the agricultural and agrifood products that France exports.
They aim to:
- collect data to evaluate consumers’ exposure to risk;
- ensure that attention continues to be paid to “sensitive” products;
- implement new programs for the evaluation of the sanitary situation;
- evaluate the quality of French products as a crisis prevention tool;
In addition, in the context of a unified European market and the free movement of goods, these programs respond to the request for harmonized controls across Europe seeking to ensure a uniform sanitary status for all Member States. With this goal in mind, every year at the end of March, each Member State submits to the European Commission an overview of its activities in the preceding year. Official controls are carried out regularly on a risk basis according to EU regulations. Since 2009, a risk grade is calculated for each establishment or facility on the food chain, which are ranked according to four different levels (from level I – low risk – to level IV – high risk). This ranking takes into account the theoretical risks (linked to the process or the type of product), production volume, consumer sensitivity (e.g. children) and the score awarded following the previous inspection.The inspections are performed with three different purposes: prevention, improvement and sanction.
From field to fork
While several countries have a system that makes a distinction between farm produce and food products, the French system maintains a generalized approach. Inspection programs cover all food chain establishments, from the moment the products leave their point of primary production (or enter national soil in the case of imported products) until they reach the end consumer. This way of perceiving food production as a whole helps French authorities to ensure a very high level of food product quality.
Review of French Directorate-General for Food’s activities in 2012:
Data have been updated on March 15th, 2013.
Sanitary controls on food:
86,239 inspections (documentary based and/or on site) including :
- 38,362 in factory and school cafeterias and restaurants, with 5.63% formal requests for corrective action, 1.57% forced closures (partial or total) and 1.55% notices ;
- 18,558 in retail sector (including supermarkets and transport), with 5.44% formal requests for corrective action, 1.5% forced closures (partial or total) and 2.63% notices ;
- 104 tons of products seized.
- Under monitoring and control plans:
- 64,223 samples collected (testing to detect dioxins, bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, etc.).<doc2676|center>
Sanitary controls on livestock:
149,994 official checks on livestock farms or during transport, including :
- 86,885 sanitary inspections on cattle (to raise awareness) ;
- 23,160 inspections (animal welfare, livestock identification and health issues) ;
- 7,245 environmental inspections ;
- 17,100 samples collected (testing to detect salmonella in poultry).Follow-up of checks on livestock farms, initiated by livestock farmers :
- 160,000 prophylactic on-site visits to cattle herders ;
- 51,000 prophylactic on-site visits to sheep and goats herders ;
- 168,639 samples collected (testing salmonella in poultry farms).<doc2677|center>
Controls on veterinary drugs:
- 21,298 inspections focused on veterinary pharmaceutical issues (surveillance for the presence of residues and contaminants).
To learn more:
- From field to plate: sanitary controls on food
- Food safety in Europe: European Commission website
- Food safety – key themes (World Organization for animal health)