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White Paper on food safety

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1) OBJECTIVE

To outline a comprehensive range of actions needed to complement and modernise existing EU food legislation, to make it more coherent, understandable and flexible, to promote better enforcement of that legislation, and to provide greater transparency to consumers; in addition, to guarantee a high level of food safety.

2) COMMUNITY MEASURES

White paper on food safety of 12 January 2000 [COM/99/0719 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

3) CONTENTS

A series of crises concerning human food and animal feed (BSE, dioxin etc.) has exposed weaknesses in the design and application of food legislation within the EU. This has led the Commission to include the promotion of a high level of food safety among its policy priorities over the next few years. As was stressed at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, particular attention must be focused on improving quality standards and reinforcing systems of checks throughout the food chain, from farm to table.

The White Paper on food safety is an important element in this strategy. The Commission is proposing a number of measures which will enable food safety to be organised in a more coordinated and integrated manner; these include:

  • the establishment of an independent European Food Authority with responsibility for independent scientific advice on all aspects relating to food safety, operation of rapid alert systems and communication of risks;
  • an improved legislative framework covering all aspects of food products "from farm to table";
  • greater harmonisation of national control systems;
  • dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders.

Before looking in more detail at these four areas, the Commission sets out the general principles on which European food safety policy should be based:

  • a comprehensive, integrated approach throughout the food chain;
  • a clear definition of the roles of all stakeholders in the food chain (feed manufacturers, farmers and food operators, the Member States, the Commission, consumers);
  • tracability of feed and food and their ingredients;
  • a coherent, effective and dynamic food policy;
  • risk analysis (comprising risk assessment, management and communication);
  • scientific advice to the highest standards of independence, excellence and transparency;
  • application of the precautionary principle in risk management.

European Food Authority

In the process of risk analysis, the gathering, analysis and communication of information are particularly important for the identification of potential food and feed hazards.

Improvements should therefore be made in the fields of follow-up and monitoring, the rapid alert system, research into food safety, scientific cooperation and analytical support, and it must be ensured that information is quickly and easily accessible to consumers.

To this end, the Commission envisages the establishment of an independent European Food Authority with responsibility for scientific risk assessment and communication in close collaboration with national scientific agencies and institutions. The Authority should become the scientific point of reference for the entire EU in the field of food safety.
The Authority will provide scientific advice, gather and analyse the necessary information and react to crises while demonstrating the highest level of independence, scientific excellence and transparency.

Unlike risk assessment and communication, the third element of risk analysis, namely risk management, requires legislative action and thus political decisions based not only on scientific considerations but also on a wider appreciation of the wishes and needs of society. It also requires monitoring of Member States' implementation of legislation; this function is currently carried out by the Commission in its capacity as guardian of the Treaties.

The transfer of such powers of legislation and control to the Food Authority would lead to an unwarranted dilution of democratic accountability. The risk management function should therefore continue to be exercised by the European institutions rather than the Food Authority.

New legal framework

Although a broad body of legislation already exists covering both primary production of agricultural products and industrial production of processed food, there is considerable disparity in the means to respond to situations in specific sectors. Another weakness in the system is the lack of a clear commitment from all interested parties to give early warning about a potential risk, which means that the EU response to food crises is reactive rather than pro-active.

The Commission intends to rectify this situation by proposing a coherent and transparent set of food safety rules. These rules will aim to lay down the common principles underlying food legislation, establish food safety as the primary objective of food law, and provide the general framework for those areas not covered by specific harmonised rules.

The new proposed legal framework will be concerned with the various aspects of the food chain:

  • animal feed:
    use of specific feed materials and products; evaluation, authorisation and labelling of feed; accreditation of feed production plants and control measures; establishment of a rapid alert system;
  • animal health and welfare:
    reinforcement of measures to tackle zoonoses, BSE and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, integration of animal welfare into food policy;
  • food hygiene:
    recasting of existing legal requirements in order to ensure consistency and clarity throughout the food production chain;
  • limits on contaminants and residues of pesticides and veterinary medicines in food;
  • additives, flavourings, packaging and irradiation of foodstuffs;
  • possible safeguard measures in emergencies;
  • the decision-making process in relation to food (which should be streamlined and simplified to ensure rapidity and transparency).

Controls

The Commission envisages a complete recast of the different control requirements in order to ensure that all links in the food production chain are covered by effective controls.

Although primary responsibility for compliance with legislative provisions lies with economic operators, national authorities have the task of ensuring that food safety standards are respected by operators.

Audits and inspections undertaken by the Commission in collaboration with the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) have highlighted deficiencies in national systems of control.

The Commission considers that a harmonised Community approach to the design of control systems would make for more consistent and better-quality controls. It therefore proposes a Community framework of national control systems comprising three core elements: definition of operational criteria set up at Community level; development of Community control guidelines; and enhanced administrative cooperation in the design and operation of control systems.

The Commission is also considering whether it needs to be given additional powers, in support of existing infringement procedures, in cases where controls reveal significant non-compliance with Community rules.

Consumer information

Risk communication should be interactive and involve a dialogue with and feedback from all stakeholders. Each phase of the decision-making process should be completely transparent.

Consumer concerns should be taken into account by

  • consulting the public on all aspects of food safety;
  • providing a framework for discussions between scientific experts and consumers;
  • facilitating transnational consumer dialogue at European and global level.

The Commission advocates a more pro-active approach as regards the communication of unavoidable risks for the most vulnerable groups (pregnant women, infants, the elderly, immunodeficient people, etc.).

Binding labelling rules should enable consumers to make fully informed choices about the food they eat.
In addition to the codification of the labelling Directive, the Commission would like to see the obligation to indicate components of foodstuffs extended to include all ingredients (and not merely those making up at least 25% of the final product).

The Commission will also look at the possibility of introducing specific provisions into Community law to govern "functional claims" (relating, for example, to the beneficial effects of a nutrient on certain normal bodily functions) and "nutritional claims" (which describe, for example, the presence, absence or level of a nutrient or its value compared with similar foodstuffs), as well as provisions offering appropriate means of redress.

The information provided to consumers should not be restricted to the biological, chemical and physical composition of the food they eat. The Commission will submit proposals laying down criteria governing dietetic foods, food supplements and fortified foods.

International dimension

Imported foodstuffs and animal feed should meet health requirements at least equivalent to those set by the Community for its own production.

Conversely, products exported from the Community should meet safety standards at least equivalent to those applying to products sold within the Community.

The Community should continue its efforts within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to set up international rules enabling member countries to maintain high standards of public health in relation to food safety.

The Commission will also look at the possibility of entering into new bilateral agreements with non-Community countries on recognition of the equivalence of sanitary measures. It is also in favour of continuing the negotiations with neighbouring countries (Norway, Switzerland, Andorra) and stresses how important it is that the applicant States take on the Community acquis in this area.

Action plan

An Action Plan on food safety provided in the annex to the White Paper lists the 84 legislative proposals which should be adopted before the end of 2002 in order to implement the actions set out, and also contains a timetable for this.

4) DEADLINE FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LEGISLATION IN THE MEMBER STATES

Not applicable

5) DATE OF ENTRY INTO FORCE (if different from the above)

Not applicable

6) REFERENCES

COM(1999) 719 final
Not yet published

7) FOLLOW-UP WORK

8) COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING MEASURES

 
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