Wednesday, 14 March 2018

New Report on the Rapid Alert System

On 12th March, the 2017 Report on the Rapid alert system for dangerous food products was published. The first structure for exchange of information between Member States on dangerous products was set up in 2003, and became fully operational in 2004. Its legislative basis is art.10 of the General Product Directive.

The role of the Rapid alert system is to enhance cooperation between national authorities and assist Member States in fulfilling their obligation to ensure that only safe products are placed in the market.
The latest report illuminates the latest trends in product safety. The most notified type of product has been toys with 29%, closely followed by motor vehicles at 20%. The most notified risks are injuries with 28% and chemical with 22%, while injuries are also the category with the most follow-up actions.

The Member States are required to take follow-up action following the alerts, which is set out in the website. Follow-up in this instance refers to feedback received from the countries as to how they treated the alert, with the most common follow-up action being that of finding the product. There is no formal coordination mechanism in the case where national authorities assess a threat differently. Instead the Commission is meant to act as a mediator. Divergent approaches in product safety, such as a product being identified as dangerous in a Member State but not in another, may be better addressed by a formalised system to resolve such disputes. 

Transparency is a key element to the Rapid alert system as the alerts and the subsequent measures taken by the national authorities are set out in the website. This allows consumers to follow developments and be able to find out whether an unsafe product has been found in their country. The Report points out the different parts of the alert website that are designed to be used also by consumers, such as a layman explanation of the alert system as well as the possibility to subscribe to alerts and even personalise them. Yet, what remains unclear is to what extent consumers are aware of and interested in making use of the Rapid alert website, as the Report does not specify that. It would be interesting to see which groups of consumers are more likely to make use of the website and the services offered. Since toys are the most notified products, perhaps parents of young children are more likely to make use of the alerts.

The Report also notes the most important challenges in the field of product safety for the past year. It notes how the Rapid alert system has allowed the exchange of information on fidget spinners which presented a choking hazard to children, so that dangerous products would be removed from the market or stopped at the borders.

Yet the greatest challenge is that presented by the growing popularity of online shopping. The Member States need to devote a large amount of resources in order to monitor online markets. Yet the actions adopted on an EU level are limited to soft law interventions, such as informational campaigns and cooperation with online retailers for them to take voluntary commitments. As the popularity of online shopping is growing and EU consumers are getting further exposed to products from all over the world which may not adhere to EU standards, it may be time to consider new interventions in the field, as well as further strengthening international cooperation.

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