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Iceland told to improve import controls

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Iceland has been warned for not following the rules concerning the import and transit of products of animal origin. 

Iceland is part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) monitors how the country implements European Economic Area (EEA) rules on food and feed safety, animal health, and welfare.

ESA sent a letter of formal notice to Iceland over the non-compliance. This is the first step in infringement proceedings. Iceland has two months to respond before ESA takes the case further.

Incident timeline

In 2017, ESA verified that official controls related to importing and transporting products of animal origin, animal by-products, and live animals were conducted in line with EEA legislation.

Among the shortcomings uncovered was the lack of a system to ensure that consignments from non-EEA countries in transit and/or transshipment undergo veterinary checks when required by law.

ESA also identified “insufficient” coordination and information-sharing between Iceland Customs and Revenues (Customs) and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Similar problems were highlighted during audits in 2010 and 2012.

These issues meant Icelandic authorities could not guarantee that products of animal origin in transit or transshipment had been subject to the required checks before being customs-cleared. The 2017 audit found it could not be excluded that non-conforming shipments of animal products were entering Iceland and freely circulating on the EEA market.

In 2020, Iceland introduced a legislative amendment aimed at solving the problem. Customs also informed ESA of plans to connect its IT facilities to the European Commission’s Trade and Control Expert System (TRACES). 

However, in 2022, the amendment was repealed following complaints from stakeholders. Iceland has not yet updated ESA on progress to improve the cooperation between Customs and MAST. ESA also has not received information to indicate that Customs has access to TRACES. These developments led to the ESA deciding that Iceland has failed to fulfill its obligations under EEA rules.

Poultry meat audit

ESA also revealed Iceland has strengthened food safety controls for poultry and poultry meat products. The report was published after a follow-up audit in February 2024.

During an audit in 2022, ESA found that Iceland needed to strengthen its control system to ensure safe food. The recent audit evaluated the implementation and effectiveness of Iceland’s corrective actions on four recommendations.

Based on corrective actions taken and planned by Icelandic authorities, one suggestion related to post-mortem inspection conditions was closed in February 2023.

ESA concluded that all other shortcomings had been addressed. These included weak animal health controls before slaughter (ante-mortem inspection) and weak controls of slaughtered animals for signs of disease (post-mortem inspection) to ensure that meat is safe for consumers.

MAST has employed additional official veterinarians, and further training is planned.

An online registration system for data collection is being developed, which should make data analysis related to areas such as hygiene controls, animal welfare, and post-mortem findings easier.

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