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FOOD SAFETY IN OUR DAILY LIFE. Laurentiu SOLACU - Counselor National Authority for Consumer Protection. FOOD SAFETY IN OUR DAILY LIFE.

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FOOD SAFETY IN OUR DAILY LIFE

Laurentiu SOLACU - Counselor

National Authority for Consumer Protection


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FOOD SAFETY IN OUR DAILY LIFE

The safety of the food products we consume on a daily basis is essential to our health, and it involves the entire food chain from producers of raw materials to the finished products that reach us every day.

The defining elements for food safety are: The quality of raw materials that go into the production process; Production of food products; Storage and transport of food products; Manner and marketing conditions of food products.

Food safety consists in observing the hygiene and health rules throughout the production process and is aimed at "guaranteeing the population’s health in terms of the hygiene, freshness and nutritional value of the food products they consume."

Order of the Minister of Health no. 975 on December 16th, 1998 approving the Norms on the Hygiene and Health of Food Products


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Processed Food Products - a Need of the Modern World

  • Today, as the population of the world is growing, processed food products have become indispensable in our daily diet. Companies in the food industry cover the huge demand of processed food products, ensuring the compliance with the conditions of storage, preservation and marketing, from producers to the end consumer, that is essential for food safety.

  • Food additives are substances that have a nutritional value or not, used in the processing of food products to improve their quality or to allow the use of more advanced processing technologies.

  • Artificial and Natural Additives

  • Some additives are obtained from natural sources, such as soybeans, corn or red beetroot. Other additives do not occur freely in nature, so that they must be produced by artificial means, by chemical synthesis. The presence of food additives in the composition of processed food products, be they natural or artificial, is subject to the effective legislation, which sets forth the accepted amounts, according to the safety standards.


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Processed Food Products - a Need of the Modern World

  • Everything that exists in nature is made of chemical substances. Some additives are obtained from natural sources, such as soybeans, corn or red beet. Some other additives do not occur naturally and must be obtained artificially, through chemical synthesis. For example, the ascorbic acid and vitamin C are exactly the same substance, irrespective of their being found in an orange or obtained in a laboratory.

  • From the food safety standpoint, there must not be differences between natural and synthetic additives. From this point of view, the fact that a food product does not contain artificial additives is not of a major importance, as natural compounds have almost the same chemical structure as synthetic products.

  • For a toxicologist, the term “natural” can even raise suspicions, as many chemical substances that occur naturally are known for the side effects they may produce. For example, studies conducted in Great Britain show that allergic reactions to natural foods (eggs, milk, strawberries, some spices) are quite common, affecting almost half of the world’s population. Irrespective of additives being extracted from plants or animal tissues, produced by microorganisms or synthesized in a laboratory, a toxicologist includes these additives in the same category. They are all chemical substances that can have toxic properties. As for the analysis of their safe use for consumption in respect of the regulation of their use, the process is identical for all additives, regardless of the origin of the chemical substance.


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CATEGORIES OF FOOD ADDITIVES

The effective Romanian legislation states the list of food additives accepted to be used in the food industry, also mentioning the foods in which they can be used and the maximal accepted dose. This list is compliant with the list of additives accepted in the European Union.

Categories of Food Additives accepted by the Romanian legislation

PreservativesAntioxidantsAcidifiersBuffersAntifoaming agentsEmulsifiersJellification agents, sequestering agents, stabilizers, thickenersSweetenersNatural and synthetic colouring agentsLeavening agents and anticaking agentsFlavour enhancersSupport-substancesEnzymesFlavourings


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CATEGORIES OF FOOD ADDITIVES

Main groups of foodstuffs

  • Bread and bakery products

  • Milk and dairy products

  • Meat and meat products

  • Fish and fish products

  • Oils and fats

  • Eggs and egg-based products

  • Sugar and sweets

  • Fruits, vegetables and processed products

  • Alcohol beverages

  • Non-alcohol beverages

  • Confectionery and pastry products

  • Cereals and cereal products

  • Spices, soups, sauces, salads

  • Ice creams

  • Foods with a special destination

  • Other foods


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ACCEPTED DAILY INTAKE AND MAXIMUM USAGE LEVEL

The Accepted Daily Intake of Food Additives is Set Following Extensive Testing.

  • The legislation in force lays down the maximum level of additives that can be used in a particular food products in order to avoid any harmful effect on consumer health.

  • Acceptable daily intake (ADI) = The amount of a food additive, expressed as mg/kg body weight, that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without incurring any appreciable health risk.

  • The ADI is based on an evaluation of available toxicological data and established by identifying the No-Observed-Adverse-Effect-Level (NOAEL) in the most sensitive experiment among a battery of studies in test animals performed with the test compound and extrapolating to man by dividing the NOAEL with a safety factor of usually 100.

  • The levels of an additive permitted in foods is established so that the ADI is not exceeded and this will depend on the level of consumption of the various food categories in which the use of the additive is approved.

  • With a view to confirming the safety limits of food additives consumption, the Accepted Daily Intake is used worldwide by the regulatory health and food authorities: the World Health Organization, the Scientific Food Committee of the European Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration. The Accepted Daily Intake is subject to regular revisions. The results of the tests are certified by independent experts.


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LEGISLATION

  • As far as the protection of consumer interests is concerned, the Ministry of Health and Family and the National Authority for Consumers’ Protection, along with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, are the institutions in charge with issuing orders to regulate the conditions for authorizing the units that produce, process, store, transport and market food products, as well as the conditions for authorizing the foods declared fit for human consumption and controlling units producing foods.

  • The marketing of food products in conditions that guarantee the protection of consumers’ health is regulated by the legislation in the following domains: Regulations for the production, movement and marketing of foods - GEO no. 97/21 June 2001, approved by Law no. 57/16 January 2002; Conditions for obtaining, testing, using and marketing genetically modified organisms - GO no. 49/30 January 2000, approved by Law no. 214/19 April 2002; Product marking and labelling - GD no. 106/7 February 2002; Imitations of food products that may involve the risk of endangering consumer health or safety - GD no. 187/17 March 2000; Approval of the hygiene and health norms for food products - Order of the Minister of Health and Family no. 975/16 December 1998; Approval of the hygiene norms regarding the production, processing, storage, preservation, transport and marketing of food products - Order of the Minister of Health and Family no. 976/16 December 1998; Approval of the Norms regarding the food additives destined to be used in food products meant for human consumption - Order of the Minister of Health and Family no. 438/18 June 2002 and Order of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry no. 295/12 July 2002 which shall enter into force 12 months from date of its publication (Official Journal on 3rd October 2002).


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LEGISLATION

  • Romanian laws are harmonized with European legislation

  • Romanian laws establish the maximal accepted dose of each food additive in a particular food product. On the list of ingredients, food additives are registered with the name of the category followed by the specific name or the C.E. code. Compliance with the legal provisions shall be checked by the competent authorities in charge with performing control at producer, during storage and marketing of food products.

  • As Romania is now preparing for EU accession, it has transposed the European directives regarding food additives. As a result, the Romanian food industry also uses food additives provided for in the following European directives: Directive 94/36/EC regarding colourings meant to be used in food products; Directive 94/35/EC regarding sweeteners meant to be used in the food industry; Directive 89/107/EC regarding food additives authorized for use in food products meant for human consumption; Directive 95/2/EC regarding food additives other than colourings and sweeteners; Decision 292/97/EC regarding the maintenance of national legislations forbidding the use of some food additives in the manufacturing of specific food products.

  • On 3rd October 2003 shall enter in force the Order of the Minister of Health and Family no. 438 / 18 June 2002 and Order of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry no. 295 / 12 July 2002 approving the Norms on food additives destined to be used in food products meant for human consumption.


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LEGAL REGULATIONS GUARANTEE THE SAFETY OF FOOD ADDITIVES

  • Food additives are substances used for the preparation of foodstuffs, with a view to improving their quality or allowing the application of advanced processing technologies.[1] The Codex Alimentarius Commission within the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation specifies, in the procedural handbook, that “food additives mean any substances, even microbiological ones, which are not naturally consumed as foods, even if they have a nutritive value or not, and whose addition to foods is related to a technological (and sensorial) purpose in the manufacturing, packaging or preservation of foodstuffs, having a certain effect or an effect which is likely to produce (direct or indirect) convenient effects upon their properties. The term of “additive” does not include contaminants or substances added to foods for the preservation or improvement of the nutritive properties.

  • Used since ancient times for the obtaining of foods, food additives have become more and more diversified with time, the European Union authorizing for use a number of 311 food additives.

  • From the definition given by the Codex Alimentarius Commission within the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, it results that the use of additives is justified for the following purposes: to preserve the nutritive value of a food product; to improve the preservation and stability properties of a food product; to favour the manufacturing, packaging, storage and transport of food products; to improve the sensorial properties of food products.


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LEGAL REGULATIONS GUARANTEE THE SAFETY OF FOOD ADDITIVES

  • The use of food additives is neither justified nor permitted in the following cases: the proposed dose for usage endangers human health; results in a sensitive diminution of the nutritive value of food products; it is intended to mask some deteriorations or degradations of food products or to hide some manufacturing or handling faults; consumers are misled as to the quality of the food product.

  • The conditions for the use of food additives imply the following: innocuousness and absence of danger as a result of a potential accumulation of doses or effects, conditions which are proven experimentally on at least two animal species; their use should be accepted as necessary and motivated by scientific and/or technical considerations; the quantity added to the food product should be as low as possible, but also sufficient to obtain the effect for which the food product is indicated; the introduction of a substance from the group of food additives should not result in the replacement of one of the normal components of the food product; the purity of the food additive by the testing of its physical and chemical characteristics should be regulated by law; the introduction of food additives should be preceded by the establishment of simple, sensitive methods, for qualitative identification and quantitative dosing; the addition of food additives in foods shall be stated visibly on the package, in compliance with legal provisions.


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LEGAL REGULATIONS GUARANTEE THE SAFETY OF FOOD ADDITIVES

  • The regulations regarding the safety of food additives use are currently issued by the European Community. The analysis and evaluation of consumption safety are carried out by a group of independent experts meeting within the Scientific Committee on Food which reports to the European Commission. Food additives are authorized only after being analysed and evaluated in terms of consumption safety. The testing procedure is a rigorous one, and is aimed at obtaining information regarding potential effects on the short, medium and long term as a result of the prolonged consumption of products containing such additives. Most often than not, such researches can last for a few months or even a few years, depending on the additive subject to testing. The methods for research on food additives (Report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and of the World Health Organisation, 53/593-1974) consist of: acute toxicity studies; short and long-term toxicity studies; special studies containing investigations regarding reproduction, embryo-toxicity, teratogenicity, mutagenicity and finally observations on humans. The tests also answer some questions as the following: “Is this additive toxic?”, “Can it cause malformations in newborns?”, “Can it affect persons suffering from allergies?”.


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LEGAL REGULATIONS GUARANTEE THE SAFETY OF FOOD ADDITIVES

  • Based on the results, the Accepted Daily Intake, is calculated, meaning the estimated quantity from a food additive, expressed taking into account the body weight, which can be consumed on a daily basis, throughout the entire life, without posing any risks to the health. The accepted daily intakes for humans depend on each particular additive, and these doses can be: unconditionally accepted daily intakes and temporarily accepted daily intakes (the unconditionally or temporarily accepted daily intakes are expressed in mg/kg body). These doses must not be mistaken for the quantities introduced in foodstuffs.

  • The Accepted Daily Intake is a concept used by regulatory bodies from the entire world, such as the World Health Organization, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration, for the confirmation of the consumption safe limits of food additives. The Accepted Daily Intake applies to persons of all ages, children and adults.

  • Once the Scientific Committee on Food establishes that an additive is safe for consumption, the European Commission can initiate the required legislation to regulate the use of the respective additive. Specifications will also be issued to ensure that the additive to be used will have the same composition and purity as the initially tested product.

  • The specifications for use are agreed upon by technical experts from all EU member states, subordinated to the Commission. Further on, the Commission will submit its proposition to the Council of Ministers and to the European Parliament for approval. The proposition contains the conditions in which the additive can be used, specifying the types of foodstuffs and the maximal quantity in which it can be used. The final result is a directive of the European Commission, approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

  • It is at that very moment, after the safety of the additive was proven and after it was included on the list of accepted additives, that the additive is assigned an E code, followed by a group of figures and potentially letters.

  • The provisions of the EU directive will be subsequently incorporated by all member states into their respective national legislations, each of them monitoring that the accepted maximal levels should not be exceeded.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • The purpose of labelling is to provide consumers with all necessary, sufficient, verifiable and easily comparable data they may need in order to choose the products that meet their requirements and financial possibilities, as well as to become aware of the potential risks they may be exposed to.

  • It is compulsory to label all food products. The information indicated on the label must not mislead consumers as to: the characteristics of the food product, and especially as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, origin, as well as the manufacturing or production methods; assignment of effects or properties that the foods do not have; suggestion that the food has special characteristics when actually all similar products have the same characteristics.

  • The labelling and the methods by which it is realized must not assign to foods properties for the prevention, treatment or healing of diseases or make reference to such properties. Exception to this rule are natural mineral waters as well as any foods with special nutritional destinations, authorized as such by the Ministry of Health and Family.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

The labels of foods products must include the following:

  • name under which the product is traded;

  • list of ingredients, containing all ingredients in the decreasing order of their quantity, determined at the moment of their introduction in the manufacturing process; vitamins and minerals added to goods shall be listed among ingredients; additives shall be mentioned among ingredients, with the specification of the category, followed by the specific name or by the EC digital code;

  • quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients;

  • net quantity of pre-packed foods;

  • date of minimal durability expressed as "Best before ...", …”, if the day is included in the date, or "Best before ...", if the months and year or only year are indicated. In the case of foods which are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view, the consumption deadline shall be specified (validity term), expressed as "Expires on ...", indicating in the following order, the day, month and year, in an non-codified manner;

  • storage and use conditions, when they need special indications;

  • name or commercial name and producer’s, packer’s or distributor’s headquarters; the case of imported products, the name and address of the importer registered in Romania;

  • the place of origin of the food, if its omission would create confusions among consumers;

  • instructions of use, their absence can determine an improper use of foods;

  • alcohol concentration for beverages where it exceeds 1.2% of the volume;

  • batch, whose indication is preceded by letter "L"; - the indication of the batch is not compulsory when the date of the minimal durability and the or the consumption deadline are indicated by a clear and non-decoded mention of the day and month, at least.

  • additional labeling indications, based of product groups.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • All indications on the label must be in Romanian, without excluding the possibility of their being displayed in other languages, too. The indications on the label shall be printed in a legible manner, easy to understand, shall be marked visibly, in a way which does not permit for their erasure and shall not be masked, hidden, placed in obscure places or in places interrupted by photos or texts.

  • When the list of ingredients contained by a food product is not stated on the label, consumers can dial the Consumers’ Phone Number, if stated on the package, or can refer to the County Consumer Protection Office.

  • Read the product label carefully before buying the product!

  • The label - a means by which the consumer is informed of the ingredients of food products.

  • The purpose of labeling is to provide consumers with all necessary, sufficient, verifiable and easily comparable data they may need, in order to choose the products that meet their requirements and financial possibilities, as well as to become aware of the potential risks they may be exposed to.

  • The obligation to provide appropriate labeling for packaged foods is stipulated both in the Romanian and EU legislation.

  • Conformity checks in respect of the information contained on product labels shall be conducted by the authorities in charge with performing the surveillance and control of foodstuffs, i.e.: The authorities for consumers’ protection designated by the National Authority for Consumers’ Protection; The health authorities designated by the Ministry of Health and Family; The sanitary-veterinary, phyto-sanitary and technological control authorities designated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

  • It is compulsory to have food additives marked on the product label.

  • According to the effective legal provisions, food producers are bound to state the food additives contained by the food products, in a visible manner, on all the labels of the product packages (bottle, jar, box, pack etc.).


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • Under the slogan "Inform Yourself!", the Ministry of Health and Family (MSF) and the National Authority for Consumer Protection (ANPC) are launching the consumer information programme, "Food Safety" (SPA). The programme is aimed at providing Romanian consumers with all the instruments required for a complete information in the area, so that they should be informed and demanding when purchasing a food product.

  • Consumers now have two sources of information: the website www.siguranta-alimentara.ro and the "Food Safety" Guide. The informative materials are the result of the collaboration between the specialists of the Ministry of Health and Family and of the National Authority for Consumer Protection and, in addition to that, they are based on a series of research activities in the area, carried out internationally.

  • The informative SPA guide contains fundamental information about food safety, food additives and the daily accepted consumption, the labelling of food products, consumers' rights, the categories of additives accepted by the Romanian legislation, the effective legislation from Romania and the European Union, as well as practical advice for consumers.

  • Printed out in 40.000 copies, the informative SPA guide is distributed free of charge to the territorial structures of the authorities having attributions in the regulation, authorization and control of the manufacturing and trade of food products, as well as to the medical associations from Romania, thus ensuring the basic information for the education of the public at large as regards food safety. Thus, 10.000 copies are being distributed through the National Authority for Consumer Protection to the county offices for consumer protection, while 10.000 others are being distributed through the Ministry of Health and Family to the county public health directorates.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • The informative SPA guide is being distributed simultaneously to the mass media from all over the country. Moreover, 100.000 posters with the internet site address are being distributed throughout the country, in the large store chains and other food retail outlets.

  • The internet page www.siguranta-alimentara.ro contains information about consumer rights, food additives, the history of their use, the categories of food additives accepted for use in Romania and their role in food products, their authorization procedure, the accepted daily consumption, the effective legislation in the area, useful information regarding the institutions consumers can refer to.

  • www.siguranta-alimentara.ro also contains information regarding natural and artificial additives, allergies and adverse reactions, acidifiers, leavening agents, antioxidants, flavourings, colourings, preservatives, emulsifiers, labeling and packaging, fats, sweeteners, advice for cooking food products.

  • For a complete information, consumers can access the links to the Internet sites existing in the European Union and the USA, such as: the European Food Safety Authority - www.efsa.eu.int, the European Food Information Council - www.eufic.org and the US Food and Drug Administration - www.fda.gov. Consumers have direct access to the internet websites of the Ministry of Health and Family - www.ms.ro and to the National Authority for Consumer Protection - www.anpc.ro.

  • By the information disseminated under SPA program, consumers will be better informed and aware, in order to evaluate the way in which producers and traders understand to observe the Romanian effective legislation and their degree of responsibility towards consumers.

  • The Ministry of Health and Family and the National Authority for Consumer Protection are planning to continue the "Food Safety" program next year as well.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • The food safety is a common responsibility for all participants on the products’ chain: farmer, processor, transporter, distributor, retailer, consumer and regulation and control authorities in the field.

  • Many checking procedures and practices are implemented throughout the food chain to guaranty the safety of the food products on the consumer’s table, to minimize the risks of contamination so that the people will benefit by the advantages of safety food products.

  • The legislation and the EU food industry standards strictly regulates each and every stage of food chain “from the farm to the table” concerning the quality of the raw materials and the ingredients used, the quality and the security of the processing stages, the transportation and storage in safety conditions, packaging and labeling.

  • The food tranceability – “from the farm to the fork”/”from stable to table”- is an important common principle used in the field of food safety in EU member states and the accession countries, including Romania. It is a system that helps consumers to follow up all the stages of the food products before buying its. The system is offering detailed information on the origin of the goods from the farm gate and on the production steps/stages. It allows to monitor and to control the whole chain food.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

The quality standards are the guaranty of the safety food product.

  • The food producers have the entire responsibility to produce safety food that will be equal to consumers’ requirements and expectations as for their safety and appropriate law enforcement. The producers, who assumed this responsibility, are relying on modern management quality systems which assure the quality and safety of the products. The most used systems are: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Quality Standards ISO 9000.

  • Packaging has an important role to protect the food and consumers. It maintains the accurate quality of the products as well as the integrity of the products during the transport, distribution, and storage in the warehouse and storehouse. The packing contribute to increase the lifetime of the food and the label offers a wide range of information about the products.

  • The frigorific chain is a primer condition. Food safety is subject also on the respect of suitable temperature and other specific rules of the transporters and distributors which must protect the products against the action of nocive factors and must hinder degradation of the products. The EU legislation, ISO norms and Codex Alimentarius set-up adequate norms in order to implement quality standards during the food transport and storage of the goods.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

The consumers’ responsibility is food hygiene.

  • The consumers’ responsibility to assure their own food safety has the same importance like the responsibility of food industry producers. The consumer must respect some rules regarding the food hygiene when they buy, carry out, keep and cook the food. The risks of the consumers in the domestic environment are especial the microbes which may contaminate the food products especial when they are cooked and consumed.

  • The more safety way to protect the consumers against the risks is to inform them on a permanent basis about the food safety. For this purpose, from 2004 the department stores from all over the country have the FS information points when you can found all the time the most important advices for the consumers’ safety. Also it will be distributed 400,000 of “ABC of food safety”(FS) brochures by these points. The Internet web page www.siguranta-alimentara.ro will be permanently at the consumers’ disposal to facilitate the access to the FS information as well as to the legislative acts in this field.

  • The seminars and workshops has begun in 2003 and the process is continuing also in 2005 and will get together the producers, traders, authorities and civil society to debate on the responsibility of the food safety from the producer to the final consumer.

  • The FS program has begun in 2002 and his task is, inter alia, to correctly inform the consumers to be well-advised and to ask for supplementary information when they are buying foodstuffs. The FS program is in line with the common efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the specialized committees of the European Commission specialized services and other international organizations that work for protecting the consumers and to guaranty the health by offering safety products.

  • In order to adequately inform and advise the consumers about the food products, The National Authority for Consumers’ Protection has included in its program to assist the non-governmental organizations of the consumers. In 2005 the authority has also financed a network of consumers’ consultation and information centers in Romania having the managerial center in Bucharest.


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LABELLING AND PACKING FOOD PRODUCTS

  • Government Decree no.671 from 19 July 2001 published in the First Part of the Official Journal no.437/6 August 2001 regarding the setting up, the organizing and the functioning of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Supervision of the Products Market, Services and Consumers’ Protection.

  • Government Decree no.671 from 19 July 2001 regarding setting up, organizing and the functioning of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Supervision of the Products Market, Services and Consumers’ Protection was amended and completed by the Government Decree no.144 from 12 February 2004 modifying the Annex.

  • We have the opinion that it is necessary to develop in Romania the self-control activity by setting up by the employers’ organization detailed and similar to the EU practice the Good Practice Cods for the specific activity sectors.



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