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Letters • February 8 2004

The food safety Act

Emanuel Abela

I refer to the article entitled ‘Do not buy Maltese!’ by Dr Anna Mallia (MaltaToday 1 February, 2004).
It is surprising that Dr Mallia cannot understand why the action mentioned in her article had to be taken by the health authorities. Any person who sells or exposes for sale any food intended for human consumption is responsible for that product under the Food Safety Act or any regulations issued under this Act. A person cited under this Act may plead due diligence. (Article 41, Chapter 449) or even warranty (Article 48, Chapter 449) if he or she can prove to have taken all reasonable steps to avoid the commission of the offence under which the charge is made. Unfortunately, in many instances this plead cannot be entered during the legal proceedings since the food operators do not go into the trouble of ensuring that products are checked before being placed on the shelves and that such checking is documented, as required under regulation 7 of the Hygiene of Food Regulations (L.N. 264/2002). That is, adopting a self regulation or auto control food safety management system throughout the food chain.
It seems Dr Mallia has shifted the onus onto the authority rather than onto the persons who stand to gain most from the operation in question. So to use her words, "Mr. Wise Guy" and "Frank the grocer" expect the Health authorities to ensure that the product is in accordance with food safety legislation, while they just relax and enjoy the profits even, if necessary, to the detriment of the consumer.
Regarding the certification of products mentioned, one cannot expect the Health authorities to analyse, at the expense of the taxpayer, each individual product that is locally produced. Such analyses would have to be continuous, since the Health authorities would not afford to miss out on a product that might eventually contravene the legislation. Nevertheless, the health authorities do perform periodic checks, both analytically and physically, on local and imported products during manufacturing and upon importation respectively, as well as the retailing stage.
In most instances the health authorities do their best to ensure that the importer or manufacturer assume all legal liability on behalf of their clients, the retailer. However, in the case mentioned by Dr Mallia, "Mr Wise Guy" thought otherwise, something that the Health Authority had no control over.
The Health authorities are confident that many of the local manufacturers are capable of producing quality products. Unfortunately, there are a few irresponsible operators who are prepared to make money at the consumers’ expense. However the Health authorities continue to be there to ensure the safety of the consumer.

Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta