The European Union has made food safety one of the main priorities of its policy agenda. It is a horizontal objective to be taken into account in several areas of Community competence: the CAP and its rural development pillar, the environment, public health, consumer protection and the internal market.
In response to the food scares of the 1990s (BSE, foot-and-mouth disease), in January 2000 the European Commission published a White Paper on food safety, which marks an important step in the recasting of European legislation in this area. It heralds the development of a legal framework covering the entire food chain - "from farm to fork" - using a global, integrated approach. This approach sees food safety as covering animal feed and animal health, animal protection and welfare, veterinary checks, animal health measures, plant health checks, and the preparation and hygiene of foodstuffs. The White Paper also stresses the need to launch an ongoing dialogue with consumers in order to inform and educate them.
Adopted in February 2002, the Regulation forming the basis of the new food safety legislation defines six fundamental general principles:
- an affirmation of the integrated nature of the food chain;
- risk analysis as the cornerstone of food safety policy;
- a clear dividing-line between the analysis and management of risks;
- the responsibility of operators in the sector;
- the traceability of products at every stage of the food chain;
- the citizen's right to clear and accurate information.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been set up. Its main tasks are to provide independent scientific opinions on food safety issues, to collect and analyse data on any potential or emerging risks and to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the public. In particular, it issues scientific opinions on certain foodstuffs or ingredients (additives, GMOs). The Brussels European Council held in December 2003 established the EFSA's headquarters in Parma, Italy.