ICELAND – The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has directed Iceland to reinforce its official controls on food of non-animal origin after an audit in March discovered gaps in its control system.

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) audits Iceland to verify that official control systems monitoring the safety of food and feed, animal health and welfare are in compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) standards.

According to EFTA, non-compliant feed and food of non-animal origin entering Iceland from other countries could be placed on the market.

Iceland does have a framework for official controls and, if products are presented, then documentation, identity and physical checks are carried out in line with the requirements.

The audit covered products of non-animal origin (PNAO) such as berries, nuts, teas and vegetable spreads and 10 recommendations were made.

It found a delay in reviewing Icelandic laws to reflect amended EU rules, which sets the frequency of checks on certain products from some countries and are changed every six months.

Iceland is not an EU member state so rules do not apply from the same date. Officials said they were committed to implementing EU rule changes as quickly as possible but translation sometimes caused delays.

In some cases, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) authorized release of consignments before laboratory results were available. This increases the possibility that unsafe food will be put on the market, said auditors.

The audit team noted twice that for PNAO entering Iceland from non-EEA countries subject to increased official controls, samples had been taken for aflatoxins, but they were cleared before lab results were available.

MAST said on one occasion it had informed the operator not to place the product on the market until results were available, as reported by Food Safety News.

Cooperation between MAST and Iceland Revenue and Customs did not ensure the required controls were performed on consignments, as a significant part of shipments subject to stricter official controls or emergency measures had not been notified and checked.

MAST had requested the customs agency update its database on controlled goods due to changes in EU regulation only twice although the legislation was amended five times in the past two years, the audit stated.

Several consignments of food of non-animal origin subject to official controls were found to have entered Iceland since 2019 without being pre-notified in the Trade Control and Expert System New Technology (TRACES NT) system as required.

Icelandic officials said prior notifications had improved and letters would be sent to importers to inform them of pre-notification rules.

One product had been imported eight months before and was listed on a customs declaration as requiring increased official controls. This had not been identified by MAST so no follow up action had been taken.

Based on an interview with an operator, peanut butter they imported from the United States subject to import checks was not controlled in 2020 and 2021, reports Food Safety News.

The operator was not aware of the requirement to notify in TRACES the import of this product but they had been using TRACES NT for products of animal origin.

Since January 2022, MAST has made arrangements to ensure presentation of relevant consignments for checks. Due to the timing and significance of the changes, the audit team could not establish whether the system would work in the long term.

The laboratory that analyzes samples of products subject to official controls sends them abroad to a private lab for pesticide and mycotoxin analysis. This site was not designated as an official laboratory to carry out such analyses, tests and diagnoses.

As such, the auditors noted that these shortcomings may compromise reliability of the analysis and prevent authorities from taking action in a timely manner.

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