TRACES, or Trade Control and Expert System, is a web-based veterinary surgeon certification tool used by the European Union for controlling the import and export of live animals and animal products within and without its borders. Its network falls under the responsibility of the European Commission.

Background

Since the end of the nineteenth century, following the development of modern veterinary medicine and food safety, European states have built, in parallel with customs structures, veterinary inspection stations located at the borders known as Border Inspection Posts. There all goods of animal origin including live animals are checked in order to avoid outbreaks of zoonoses and epizooties. Following the development of office computerisation and computer networking in the '80s, a large number of countries started to think about veterinary computer certification.

In the 1990s, according to the its first pillar, the European Union began studying how to provide a European-scale computer network dedicated to food safety and animal health with the aim of strengthening the single European market and the protection of consumers.

The TRACES network started up in April 2004 as a replacement for the older ANIMO and SHIFT networks. (See History section.)

Features

TRACES stands for "Trade Control and Expert System", this acronym enhances the traceability aspect which constitutes the core element of the system and is a key factor of food safety. The first mention of this system was in the decision of the Commission 2003/623/CE of 19 August 2003.

It is based on a network using internet veterinary authorities of member states and participating non-EU countries. Through it, central and local authorities, border inspection posts and economics operators are linked.

It provides electronic sanitary certificates mandatory for tracking goods and live animals: Common Veterinary Entry Document, or CVED as defined in decision 2003/279/CE of the Commission of 15 April 2003 for products (CVED P) and in regulation 2004/282/CE of the Commission of the 18 February 2004 for CVED for live animals (CVED A).

TRACES sends an electronic message from the departure point to the transfer point and the arrival point to notify that a consignment is arriving. Similarly, every concerned point sends a message to additional points which enables a well-developed follow up of the consignment (goods or animals) movement.

It provides the ad-hoc European Union legislation, manages the non-EU country establishment list which is the agreed-upon list for importing into the EU, and keeps on file the rejected consignments and the reason for rejection.

Economic operators are able to start the process electronically by filling in the first part of the mandatory certificates for importing goods and animals into the EU.

Its next step will be electronic certification without any paperwork. At the moment, the legal basis for exchange of goods or live animals among non-EU countries and the EU is a paper certificate, even if the decision 2004/292/CE says it mandatory for member states and economic operators to use TRACES after 31 December 2004.

TRACES uses all the languages of the EU plus Russian, and the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection, Directorate G, unit G2, sector TRACES, is in charge of the workload. The page is on the europa.eu website.

History

Before TRACES, the EU tried twice to create a computer-based network dedicated to food safety and animal health for exchange of goods and live animals iva the ANIMO and SHIFT networks.

ANIMO network

ANIMO stood for "ANimal MOvement system," and is a computer-based tracking system for animal movements whereas the SHIFT network is devoted to goods movements.

The directive of the Council of the European Union 90/425/CEE about veterinary and zoo-technical cheques says, art 20, Alinea 1:

The Commission shall introduce, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 18, a computerised system linking veterinary authorities, with a view, in particular, to facilitating the exchange of information between the competent authorities....

On 15 July 1991, the directive of the Council 91/496/CEE defined the veterinary cheques to be carried out on imported goods from non-EU countries.

Following these directives, the Commission began to create the structure of TRACES. The 19 July 1991 decision of the Commission 91/398/CEE is in relation to a computer-based network linking veterinary authorities (ANIMO).

The Commission launched an invitation to tender in December 1991. On 3 December 1991, the decision of the Commission 91/638/CEE concerned itself with the designation of the host centre.

On 2 July 1992, the decision of the Commission 92/373/CEE stated in article 1: "The host centre of the company Eurokom, Avenue de la Joyeuse Entrée 1, B-1050 Bruxelles, is designated as the common host centre for the computerised network 'Animo'."

On 25 September of that year, the Commission 92/486/CEE the common host will work with member states.

On 21 December 1992, the Commission 93/70/CEE specified the message ANIMO will send using its own coding system which is different from the ISO code used by the World Customs Organisation and now in use in TRACES.

Finally on 4 June 2002, the Commission 2002/459/CE defined the list of ANIMO units and repeals Decision 287/2000/CE.

ANIMO was used by member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Andorra, San Marin, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. ANIMO was only able to send messages and lacked interactivity with veterinary authorities.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Internet and all additional networks weren't in common use; this might explain why people were so reluctant to use AMINO.

ANIMO was able to trace the origin of animals and goods in the event of problems and to warn veterinary authorities providing that data had been introduced into the system which wasn't done systematically.

The system was lacking a database on European legislation about importation from non-EU countries. This resulted in a loss of time at border inspection posts, as one had to wait for the proper legislation to be found.

ANIMO was additionally devoted only to live animals. It didn't keep track of data concerning those rejected or goods rejected; a rejected consignment was able to try at another entry point at another border post. More generally, this old system didn't keep track of movements of animals or goods in the EU or their importation.

For all these reasons the Commission tried to develop another tool, the SHIFT network.

SHIFT network

SHIFT stands for "System to assist with the Health controls of Import of items of veterinary concern at Frontier inspection posts from Third countries."

The need for developing SHIFT was expressed in the decision 88/192/CEE of the Council on 28 March 1988. Article 1 stated, "The Commission shall be responsible for drawing up a programme for the development of computerization of veterinary importation procedures (Shift project)."

More accurately the decision 92/438/CEE of the Council specified the computerization of veterinary import procedures (SHIFT project) and was amending Directives 90/675/EEC, 91/496/EEC and 91/628/EEC and Decision 90/424/EEC, and repealing Decision 88/192/EEC. Again this decision gave the Commission the responsibility of organising a computer network.

SHIFT was designed to electronically manage the sanitary aspects of animal and animal products coming from non-EU countries. It was divided into three parts.

CIRD SHIFT

CIRD, or Community Import Requirement Database, was dispatched to veterinary officials in border inspection posts the legislation necessary for imports. It was additionally supposed to control the valid data of consignments. The impossibility of updating this database in real time was the main reason for its failure.

RCS SHIFT

With RCS, or Rejected Consignments System, all information regarding rejected animals and animal products was kept in a database to make sure they wouldn't try to enter through the border somewhere else. This worked as a prototype in Greece and Belgium.

LMS SHIFT

LMS, or List Management System, managed the non-EU countries' establishments list. These establishments were approved to import into the EU by the veterinary authority of their country and listed by the Commission in this database.

SHIFT has never operated except partially in Belgium and Greece. Both systems, ANIMO and SHIFT, failed to provide a useful tool to strengthen food safety and secure animal health in Europe and to help build a single European market.

The reasons for ANIMO and SHIFT's failures

  • Members states were probably not ready to delegate responsibility in such sensitive matter as food safety and public health.
  • The World Wide Web (or on a smaller scale the European wide web) wasn't in current use at that time and even professionals didn't understand its full potential.
  • Possibly the people at border inspection posts weren't aware and/or concerned about being part of a national and European safety network.
  • The Commission itself was only mildly enthusiastic and was waiting until the beginning of the twenty-first century to start actual development.

Origin of TRACES

Following the failure of ANIMO and SHIFT, which proved to be particularly ineffective throughout the outbreak of swine fever at the end of the 1990s, the European Parliament in the Resolution A5-0396/2000 of 13 December 2000 stated

"Asks the Commission to ensure that the Animal Movement System (ANIMO) is managed and developed under the full control of the Commission" (Alinea 23);

in cauda venenum:

Regrets that three years after consideration of an assessment of the ANIMO system, improvements have yet to be introduced; asks the Commission to table without delay proposals for the modification of Council Directive 90/425/EEC taking into consideration the Court of Auditors’ observations and the above-mentioned assessment, as undertaken by the Commission itself (on Alinea 24);

Again, in 2002, following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease throughout 2001 the Parliament asked the Commission:

The Commission should without delay take measures to improve the existing system for monitoring the movement of live animals within the EU (Animo system). In addition, the system for the monitoring of imports into the EU (Shift system) should be introduced quickly.(alinea 123)

The decision of the Commission 24/2003/EC of 30 December 2002 foresaw the elaboration of the new computer system and the 19 August 2003 decision 2003/623/CE announced the development of an integrated computerised veterinary system known as TRACES:

"In connexion with the establishment provided for in Decision 2003/24/EC, of the single architecture known as TRACES, combining the functions of the ANIMO and SHIFT systems, the Commission shall develop the new ANIMO system and make it available to the Member States." (Article 1)

This new network will provide (not an exhaustive list)

  • An Internet-based architecture between member states' veterinary structures (especially border inspection posts), members states' central veterinary authorities, the European Commission and the central authorities and local inspection posts of non-EU countries;
  • An access to EU legislation;
  • Tracking of rejected goods or live animals;
  • Management of non-EU countries lists of approved establishments to import into the EU.

TRACES has been developed with inside competencies, not with an external host centre. It is under the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection or DG-SANCO.

Working flow

TRACES functions in all the European languages (except Gaelic) and in Chinese, Croatian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian and Turkish.

Providing certificates

TRACES provides electronic, with the possibility to print, veterinary and sanitary certificates which are mandatory with consignments throughout import and movement in the EU. These certificates follow both live animals and animal products as they travel to and through the EU.

  • Certificates of intra-community trade, Regulation 599/2004 of the Commission;
  • Certificates for importing into the EU from a non-EU country, Decision 2007/240/CE of the Commission;
  • Common Veterinary Entry Document for animals, Regulation 282/2004/CE of the Commission and for products, Regulation 136/2004/CE of the Commission.

Notification

Notification is just an extemporaneous exchange of information as defined in Directive of the Council 90/425/CEE, laid down in Articles 4 and 8 and 10 and 20.

"The Commission shall introduce, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 18, a computerised system linking veterinary authorities, with a view, in particular, to facilitating the exchange of information between the competent authorities of regions where a health certificate or document accompanying the animals and products of animal origin has been issued and the competent authorities of the Member State of destination." (Article 20, alinea 1)

At each step of transport, at the border inspection post for example, TRACES provides an electronic message to whomever is concerned by this movement. If a main problem of public health or animal health is identified throughout an inspection, this notification is twinned by a notification in the RASFF alert network.

Management of non-EU countries' establishments lists

These establishments have to be approved by the veterinary authorities of their country before being listed by the Commission. This procedure allows them the right to import to the EU. When filling in the certificate the economic operator has only to call up his own establishment in the list and tick the box. Regulation 854/2004 of the European Parliament.

Serious threats

TRACES provides EU legislation covering the required field for each certificate, imposes the physical cheques applicable and the reinforced checks. In case of serious threat or disease outbreak the Commission can activate via TRACES the necessary safeguard measures through a 20 May 1994 decision of the Commission 94/360/CE which deals with reinforced cheques and safeguard measures.

Traceability

Traceability is the core element of the system. TRACES keeps track of every importation or movement in the EU of animals or animal products which allows tracing instantaneously the journey in case of serious problem.

More precisely data about rejected consignments, and especially the reasons of rejection, are kept for the same purpose.

Similar systems worldwide

Supranational networks

Similar existing supranational networks managing movement of animal and animal products from a food safety point of view:

  • AFSIS : Asean Food Security Information System all the ASEAN countries and Japan, China and Korea. This network is based on gathering and exchanging food safety data, it might be considered as the next TRACES network.

Free trade agreements

Free trade agreements that potentially include sanitary and veterinary aspects:

  • MERCOSUR: South America countries economic community
  • UNASUR created on 23 May 2008 seems to aim for the same goals as the European Union.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is only a free trade agreement. Sanitary concerns are laid down in Articles 712/713/714 without mention of any common network. These agreements are dedicated to improve trade among countries but don't include a veterinary network able to protect consumers health and to facilitate trade on a continental scale.

Conclusions

TRACES constitutes a key element of how the European Union facilitates trade and improves health protection for the consumer, as laid down in the First Pillar principle.

Many countries are using computer networks to provide veterinary certification, New Zealand, the United States of America and Canada, but TRACES is the only supranational network in the world working at a continental scale of 28 countries and almost 500 million people.