“Improving health standards”

Interview with Gary Preston, module 1 coordinator 'Strengthening health control capacity'

What is the aim of this module 1 that concerns the quality of health control?

It is really the overall aim of the whole project. Since 2002, the European Union has put into place strict regulations governing the hygiene conditions for fishery products imported from third countries. As it is the Competent Authorities in the ACP countries that are responsible for applying these regulations, we assist them in establishing the health control systems. We help them prepare for successful inspections by the Food and Veterinary Office. It is the results of these visits, which are communicated the DG SANCO, which are used to draw up the lists of countries that are authorised to export and those that are not.

It is for the exporting countries to set up a government system that offers health guarantees. For certain developing countries this can prove very difficult. In the United States, the responsibility for ensuring the quality and conformity of imported products rests with the importer. The European system is often seen as an economic barrier and not as a response to consumer health.

What means are you implementing to fulfil this mission?

We supply equipment and we train inspectors in the control methods and protocols. Each Competent Authority must draw up its own internal procedures. The SFP Programme has already resulted in the publication of an “Inspection Manual”. This presents all the European legislation alongside practical tips on how to carry out inspections. But every country is different and our role is partly to adapt to each situation. There is a world of difference between the island of Mauritius, with its fleets of tuna seiners, and Eritrea with its multitude of canoes. In one case producers already carry out own-controls. In the other, the health authorities have to visit around 50 landing sites.

What are your priorities?

First and foremost to ensure that countries authorised to export remain on the list. Secondly, it is to help those in a position to comply with the standards to be included on that list. Africa is closer to Europe and traditionally trades more with it. But we are also working in the Caribbean and in the Pacific. The idea is to raise health standards just about everywhere where we are asked to do so.