Regulation (EC) No. 178 of 2002, which sets out the general principles and requirements of EU food law, stipulates among other things, that food business operators at all stages of production, processing and distribution within the businesses under their control must ensure that foods satisfy the requirements of food law and that these requirements are met. With regard to traceability, the regulations require that the operator must have systems in place to be able to identify any person from whom they have been supplied with a food. They must also have a system in place to identify the businesses to which their product has been supplied.
For their import from non-EU countries, food products of animal origin, such as horsemeat, are required to meet the relevant requirements of EU food law that are operated in third countries or regions of third countries or conditions recognised by the EU to be at least equivalent.
The Regulations relating to the import of meat from third countries are set at EU level. The basic requirements for imports of meat are set out in Regulation (EC) No 853/2004. The third country of dispatch must be on an approved list for that product and the individual establishment from which the product is dispatched must also be on an approved list. These lists are published on the EU Commission’s website. There is also a requirement that imports of meat are only allowed from countries with an approved residue monitoring plan.
The EU’s Directorate General (DG) for Health and Food Safety (previously known as the Food and Veterinary Office or FVO) carries out assessments of third countries wishing to export these products to the EU and submits for Commission approval, those where the responsible authorities can provide appropriate guarantees as regards compliance or equivalence with Community feed and food law and animal health rules. Third countries and their establishments that are approved to export are audited and inspected by the EU's Health and Food safety DG with regard to these guarantees and reports of the findings of inspections are published on its website.
All products of animal origin for human consumption imported into the EU from third countries must be inspected at an approved Border Inspection Post (BIP). The range of checks to which products may be subjected include documentary, identity (traceability) and physical examinations to ensure that they comply with relevant EU and national legislation. Imports must be accompanied by health certification provided by the competent authorities of the country of origin. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/1832 of 17 October 2016, relating to changes in health certification requirements came into effect from 31 March 2017 and applies to the import of horsemeat. It imposes inter alia a minimum six-month residency requirement for the import into the EU of meat from horses from third countries. The non-EU country must also meet specified criteria with regard to the monitoring of administered substances and residues. The EU's Health and Food Safety DG also approves third-country meat processing establishments wishing to export to the EU and audits Member States’ import controls for products from third countries.
When all import controls have been satisfied, compliant consignments may then be imported and placed on the single market,where they are subject to the EU’s Food Hygiene Regulations in the same way as other compliant food products.