Thailand has been going trough a rough patch with the EU for a while now, from the still outstanding issues from DG MARE’s “yellow card” in terms of IUU, now DG SANTE (Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety) recently published the results of an inspection that was carried out last year… and the results are bad in terms of catch traceability, eligibility and basic food safety.
Recently I wrote that in my experience if compliance in the seafood safety area is dodgy, chances are that it would be the same on the fisheries compliance arena and vice-versa. Reading the Thailand report just confirms to me, all the suspicions many of us in the tuna world have are all well founded.
This audit the first in a series of audits by the EU dedicated to getting a clearer picture of the tuna industry as a whole and determine if the tuna they import meets the applicable requirements concerning public health (in particular limits for biogenic amines and heavy metals) also in the context of fish policy requirements (including the presence and accuracy of catch certificates) and customs rules.
If you want to have an overview of the EU requirements for all these certificates, I shamelessly recommend this publication
The scope of their "Tuna project" extends to geographically identified hubs, where tunas and tuna-like species are caught and processed (all forms) for export to the European Union. Thailand was initially selected following a DG Health and Food Safety study of tuna imports in which it was identified as a major tuna importer/exporter operating in two of the geographically important “tuna hubs” (Indian Ocean and Western and Central Pacific Ocean). (They also were in Ecuador recently that is the other hub, the results are not publicly available yet, and while serious problems were identified, they are as not systemic as in Thailand)
The primary objective of the Thai audit was to evaluate whether the official controls put in place by the competent authority can guarantee that the conditions of production of fishery products derived from tuna species destined for export to the European Union are in line with the requirements laid down in European Union legislation, and in particular with the health attestations contained in the EU Health export certificate.
The audit team noted weaknesses that can be considered systemic in the control of the transport of fishery products of tuna species from carriers to the first land-based establishment, the control of cold stores and the European Union eligibility of the imported raw materials.
These weaknesses (quote) do not allow the competent authority to fully provide the guarantees required by the EU export certificate
During the period (2012-16), establishments found with traceability inconsistencies imported approximately 1,075,000 tonnes of tuna species as raw materials potentially used for the manufacture of fishery products for EU export. Those raw materials (frozen only) were sourced from establishments and fishing vessels (including freezing vessels) located in seven EU member states and forty-five non-EU countries.
From the data provided by the competent authority one can see that the majority of tuna is caught in the major FAO fishing areas 57, 71 According to the competent authority Thailand has twenty-seven fishing ports where landing of fishery products (tuna species) can take place. Of those, fifteen are dedicated to the landing of imported tuna and the remaining twelve to tuna captured in waters of Thailand and neighbouring countries (FAO areas 57 and 71) and 77 (Indian and Pacific Ocean). Some tuna was also caught in the major FAO fishing areas 34, 41 and 47 (Atlantic Ocean), 51 (Indian Ocean), 61 and 81 (Pacific Ocean).
In principle, the official control system covering landing sites provides adequate guarantees with regard to the public health attestations of the EU export certificate. However, the deficient control by the competent authority of the transport conditions and the practices observed during the audit do not allow one to conclude that the competent authority can provide the same assurances with regard to the transport of fishery products.
The competent authority cannot ensure that cold stores participating in the production chain of fishery products to the EU comply with requirements at least equivalent to the EU rules, in particular, the relevant requirements of Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, (the requirement related to HACCP)
The competent authority cannot ensure that products kept at the cold stores are EU eligible due to the fact that cold stores cannot demonstrate unequivocally the origin of those products. (quote)
The ability of the competent authority to guarantee that all establishments included in the EU list comply with requirements at least equivalent to the EU rules is weakened due to the shortcomings observed during the audit.
The competent authority cannot ensure that all imported raw materials used in the manufacture of products to be exported to the EU comply and were obtained in compliance with the EU rules and as such is not in a position to certify the public health attestations of the EU export certificate for those products. (quote)
The audit team noted in the files assessed and the data provided by the competent authority that products had been imported to Thailand by reefer vessel (whole fish frozen in brine) or in containers (frozen tuna loins) from facilities located in seven EU member states and forty-five non-EU countries.
From the data provided the audit team noted that 92% of the imported raw material originated from 14 countries (one EU member state and the remainder non-EU countries). Of those biggest suppliers of raw material, three countries were not included in Annex II to Decision 2006/766/EC, hence not authorised to supply fish to the EU. The audit team noted that, in total, Thailand received raw materials potentially used in the manufacture of products for EU export from nine countries currently not included in Annex II to Decision 2006/766/EC, representing roughly 16% of those imported raw materials.
In the import certificates reviewed the audit team found in several of the files the following shortcomings (related to the products prior to their arrival in Thailand)
- Major inconsistencies on transhipment dates.
- Unknown location of the products during periods of time ranging from eighteen days to four months:
- Freezer vessel unloading in a certain port different from the one where the container was loaded into the carrier vessel (470 km distance and eighteen days difference) and no health attestation produced.
- Freezer vessel unloading to a port area and container dispatch from the same port area months later.
- Freezer vessel unloading in a port of a non-EU country not included in Annex II to Decision 2006/766/EC, dispatch of the container at uncertain date (no shipping date available) and arrival into Thailand four months after the fishing trip finished.
All the above puts into question the reliability of the guarantees provided by the competent authority with regard to the public health attestations of the EU export certificate. Furthermore;
- The audit team noted in one case out of the five cans placed on the EU market that the fishing area declared was different from the one set out in the supporting documentation.
- The audit team also noted another case where the fishing area was not precisely indicated (two FAO areas cited without the indication of which one was relevant).
The assessment of those files showed that for imported raw materials used in the manufacture of products for EU export the competent authority cannot provide full guarantees with regard to the EU eligibility of those materials and to the public health attestations of the EU export certificate
The audit team noted weaknesses that can be considered systemic in the control of the transport of fishery products of tuna species from carriers to the first land-based establishment, the control of cold stores and the European Union eligibility of the imported raw materials. (quote)
These weaknesses do not allow the competent authority to fully provide the guarantees required by the EU export certificate when exporting fishery products of tuna species to the EU. (quote)
The report is quite strongly worded, and Thailand should have spotted their game long ago. If we were to stay on best practices, DG SANTE should ask that establishments that been processing non eligible fish should be delisted. Yet doing that could cause supply problems and Ecuador would take advantage and raise prices, but then they have problems of their own… even if not “systemic”. So in reality is hard to know what they would do.
What I do know is what my friend Gilles Hosch pointed out when he read this report… if the EU would have set a good electronic CDS (Catch Documentation Scheme) instead of continuing with the present paper based system, Thailand would be in less problems since eligibility could be checked electronically and the EU consumers could be more reassured that they have been eating legal and safe fish, since Thailand is the biggest tuna exported to the EU.