General aspects

The food safety policy fits in a wide context that originates at world level and at EU level. At world level the standards for food safety are established in the Codex Alimentarius. The standards for fighting animal diseases are established in the world organization for animal health (OIE).

In the white paper on food safety the EU Commission (DG SANCO) outlined a completely new framework for the organization and supervision of food safety. With this new legislation the Commission wants to promote the health of European consumers by establishing food safety provisions that are among the best and most stringent in the world. The white paper comprises an action plan of 84 points. Its objectives can be summarized as follows:

(1) The setting up of a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

(2) The realization of a coherent European food safety legislation.

(3) An improved and more coherent organization of the control on the food chain.

(4) Permanent dialogue with, and information for the consumer.

(5) An international dimension: insist on an implementation of the European food policy at world level.

(6) The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) is responsible at the EU Commission level for supervising the proper application of the EU standards and regulations.

Important decisions are often taken on the basis of experimental data. Hence, it is crucial that such data be comparable, reliable and valid. No laboratory can in fact be run without a fit-for-purpose quality system in place. Quality has been defined by ISO as ''The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs''. To date, quality systems are basically inspired either by the GLP Principles or by the accreditation criteria.

Laboratory work may be of two different types: (i) the outcome of the investigation are exact figures, to which precision and reproducibility are expected to be attached and (ii) the outcome of the investigation is, in a general sense, complex information which should be credible, reliable and comparable. In the former case, what matters more are the experimental measurements. In this context quality is assessed in terms of precision and reproducibility of the numerical data obtained. The ability of the laboratory to generate such data is thus of primary importance. Quality systems based on accreditation criteria are ideal in this respect. In the latter case, the focus is on the overall study as such. Third parties should be enabled to reconstruct the whole course of the study and to check its integrity so that confidence can be gained in the way the study results have been obtained. Under such circumstances, quality systems based on the GLP Principles apply. Which approach is to be preferred depends only on the scope and goals of the activities performed in the laboratory, although it should not be overlooked that accreditation is basically voluntary, whereas the GLP system is prescribed by law for those Test Facilities (TFs) undertaking non-clinical safety studies.

There is still some confusion surrounding the terms of accreditation and certification. As this may well be misleading, consensus has been reached on the following definitions: accreditation is a means used to identify competent testing laboratories, whereas certification is the official approval granted by a given authority.

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