EU law has strict controls in respect of the importation of agricultural, plant and food products into the European Union. There are requirements for mandatory checks in a very high percentage of cases depending under the type of foodstuff involved, as part of EU wide food safety legislation
Imports of products of animal origin from third countries must comply with certain conditions. Border control posts operating EU controls must verify compliance with the conditions at the point of entry. The controls are harmonised and mandatory on an EU wide basis. They are overseen by an official veterinarian.
Imports may come from approved countries only. The food must emanate from approved establishments within those countries. Those countries must have a residue monitoring systems. The EU actively inspects the third country establishments on an ongoing basis to ensure continued compliance and conformity with EU food safety standards. Its designated form of health certificate is required. Products from third countries must be appropriately packaged labelled and transported.
Prior to movement of agricultural/food products the person responsible for the transportation must be registered with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and under the TRACES system. Prior to importation, at least 24 hours’ notification must be given to the border control post that the consignment will be dispatched.
Part 1 of the common veterinary entry document must be produced and accompany the goods. Various supporting documents are required with the health certificate in some cases together with other standard trade documents such as the commercial invoice, which must also accompany the goods.
On 100% of consignments, there must be verification that the details on the common veterinary entry document are correct, that the health certificate is in the correct format and that they crosscheck with the commercial documents such as the invoice or packing list and the transport documents. There must be identity checks to ensure that products described in the documentation match those presented on site on sanitary checks.
There are two types of checks which may occur. A seal check includes a cross-check with the documents. The seal must be verified to be intact and must correspond with the health certificate
There may be a full identity test which checks that the stamps official marks and health marks identifying the country an establishment of origin conform to the documentation.
A physical identity check will require the breaking of the seal and opening of the container. It must be resealed and the seal recorded on the common veterinary entry document in the normal course.
The extent of physical checks is determined by the EU legislation relative to the product concerned. The frequency of physical checks is determined by the nature of the goods.
EU legislation allows for a reduction in the level of physical checks subject to conditions. Random checks still apply. The official veterinarian reserves the right to undertake physical checks on any consignment where there is an irregularity or suspicion.
Some agricultural products including milk and milk products not for human consumption processed pet food embryos and semen are subject to one to 10% frequency. Fresh meat including beef sheepmeat goat meat and pork fresh and frozen fish and holidays are subject to 30% frequency. Poultry products, not human consumption products and honey are subject to 50% physical checks.
The nature of physical checks will depend on the nature of food/agricultural product concerned and the circumstances of import. Physical checks may involve examination of the relevant container from the perspective of temperature hygiene, weight and labelling The extent of the checks will be dictated by considerations of common sense and experience. There may be visual checks for spoilage temperature acidity etc. Cooking tests may be undertaken. Contamination may be checked.
Tests are both random and risk-based. Random tests seek to monitor the presence of residue of contaminants and assess food safety and hygiene in accordance with scientific criteria. Risk-based assessment will be based on information available through IT systems about specific health risks.
In all cases, there is the possibility that agricultural and products may be retained at the border for further checking and verification.
Upon completion of checks by the official veterinarian the consignment may be released or rejected. Rejection may be based on
- the absence of certificates
- non-compliance with requirements in relation to the establishment
- documentary mismatch
- health mark mismatch
- hygiene issues contamination microbiological contamination
Two-thirds of rejections relate to documentary failures.
Transit arrangements may be applied to agricultural movement. At a minimum documentary check verifying the consignment’s origin and accompanying documents must be undertaken. Where the consignment is required to be sealed a seal check must also be carried out. This is in addition to general powers of verification on a discretionary basis where there are grounds for concern.
There is a separate similar regime in respect of plant health. This applies to various categories of vegetables and fruit. The legislation is prescriptive in requiring certain tests and standards in the checking process as well as in relation to the standards themselves.
The focus is on the plant health status of Ireland including crops grassland forests environmental and biodiversity. There is a risk of certain pests to the natural environment. The objective is to prevent the introduction and/or spread into the EU of pests and diseases harmful to plants and plant products.
An importer into Ireland must be registered with the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine. Prior to an import and import request form must be submitted giving details of the consignment. The Department issues an import licence which may include lists of specific requirements.
Once the consignment has arrived the importer submits documents by email to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Departmental border inspectors may carry out checks.
The EU legislation prescribes the plants and plant products which are subject to control, with reference to their customs codes. Certain products must be accompanied by a certificate such as a phytosanitary certificate which is issued by the authorities of the exporting countries in certain cases.
The import control procedure e involves and requires documentary checks identity checks and plant health checks. Documentary checks look at the accuracy of data including additional declarations. They are cross-checked with the commercial documents. Identity checks look at the content and quantity imported against that declared..
The plant health check involves examination of the products themselves and if necessary sampling and laboratory testing.
Where there is non-compliance there may be a refusal of entry or imposition of a quarantine requirement. The may be a removal of infested part or treatment. There may be a destruction of the product.
Standard ISPM 15 requires wood packaging to be treated and marked. Wood packaging including pallets in other trades will be examined by the customs authorities from the perspective of compliance.
ISP M 15 does not apply at present for wood packaging coming from the UK. However, verification of the relevant stamps and marks may be undertaken on import.