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Animals need safe and quality feed to grow, develop and maintain their vital functions. From a welfare point of view, feed safety is important for all species of animals, and, in particular, for animals entering the human food supply chain. Similarly to food, feed must not contain substances that are likely to have harmful effects on animal or human health.

Safe feed is essential for animal health, healthy environment and safe food of animal origin. The legislation ensures that feed does not pose a risk to human and animal health or to the environment. It provides the rules on the marketing and use of feed, the requirements for feed hygiene, the rules on undesirable substances in feed, the rules on genetically modified feed and the conditions for the use of feed additives in animal nutrition.

Animal husbandry plays a very important role in the agricultural sector. Whether this business gives satisfactory results depends to a large extent on the use of safe and quality feed. In the European Union, approximately 5 million farmers rear food-producing animals, which means that 450 million tonnes of feed is needed each year. In addition, 70 million households use 10 million tonnes of feed for their pets.

In the past, a number of food crises occurred in Europe because of contaminated feed. As a result, a food safety policy has been introduced, which has put in place the "farm to fork" strategy. Feed safety is an important factor at the beginning of the food chain.

Responsibility for feed safety

Feed safety is the responsibility of feed business operators. Within their own HACCP concept (hazard analysis and critical control points system), they have to analyse and assess the risks that certain feed may pose to animal health, human health and the environment. The assessment focuses on the probability and severity of the occurrence of chemical, physical and microbiological health risks. The risks identified in the feed chain at an earlier stage must be avoided, eliminated or at least reduced. The HACCP concept goes beyond the implementation of normal quality standards. It may also form an integral part of the quality manual of the feed business operator. Using the HACCP concept, a higher level of feed safety is achieved. The use of HACCP principles is not required for primary production of feed.

Before authorising the placing on the European market and the use of certain feed products, such as feed additives, the hazard analysis must be carried out by an independent expert institution, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA risk assessment provides a scientific basis on which risk managers formulate new legislation. The European Commission and the Member States manage the risk through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health by establishing lists of substances allowed to be used in animal nutrition.

There are so-called positive and negative lists. Positive lists are, for example, the catalogue of feed materials, the list of feed additives authorised to be placed on the market and used in the EU and the dietetic feed list. Negative lists are, for example, the list of products for which the placing on the market and use for animal nutrition purposes is prohibited, the list concerning the ban on feeding processed animal proteins to farmed animals (with possible derogations), the ban on feeding catering waste to farmed animals other than fur animals.

Prohibitions or restrictions on the use of certain substances or products in the feed chain are also an integral part of other sets of legislation, such as legislation on feed additives or GMO legislation.

Undesirable substances in feed

Products intended for animal consumption may also contain undesirable substances that may pose a direct threat to animal health or, due to their presence in animal products, may pose an indirect threat to human health or the environment. In fixing the maximum levels of undesirable substances in feed, the toxicity of these substances, their bio-accumulability and degradability are taken into account.

The maximum levels of undesirable substances in feed are regulated by the Directive on undesirable substances in animal feed.  Where the maximum level of a certain undesirable substance in feed is found to be exceeded, feed business operators and the competent authorities have to carry out an investigation to identify the sources. The presence of undesirable substances in the feed and food chain must be eliminated or at least reduced. At the same time, other substances that are not subject to the maximum levels (such as chemical impurities, residues of veterinary medicines) are also assessed. However, certain undesirable substances that may also occur in feed (e.g. pesticide residues, salmonella) are covered by other sets of legislation.

Currently, microbiological criteria in the EU are only harmonised for feed of animal origin. National microbiological criteria are included in the Rules on feed safety criteria.

When is feed not safe?

Feed is unsafe when:

  • the content of undesirable substances exceeds the maximum permitted level;
  • it does not meet the microbiological criteria;
  • the content of antimicrobial veterinary medicines and antiparasitic agents in non-target feed after unavoidable carry-over exceeds the maximum level;
  • it contains substances not subject to the prescribed maximum levels, however, the risk assessment provided by the Administration for Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection or the European Commission confirms the risk to human or animal health or the environment;
  • it contains prohibited substances.