Copenhagen, 3 December 3001
Round table on food and agriculture in Copenhagen: strategic re-thinking of food production in terms of quality, safety and costs
At a high level round table today in Copenhagen, David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection discussed the future of EU food and agriculture policy with leading Danish farming representatives, food producers, retailers, consumer experts and scientists. The debate focused on a strategic re-thinking of food production and food policy in terms of quality, safety and cost. Commissioner Byrne underlined the need for shifts in attitudes of both consumers and producers if the high expectations for food quality and the ambitious objectives of good agricultural policy are to be met. Industry, consumer and agricultural sector representatives welcomed the initiative as timely and of strategic importance. Participants also insisted on the early establishment of an independent European Food Authority as a key step for putting the new EU approach to food safety into practice. Commissioner Byrne emphasised the importance of fostering social acceptance of GMOs by guaranteeing a high level of health and environmental protection, consumer's freedom to choose and transparent, uniform and efficient authorisation procedures.
"Reconciling low-price, high-volume and top-quality and taking all ecological and ethical concerns into account is a major challenge", David Byrne said to the Round Table participants. "We must preserve and improve the diversity and quality in the food on offer in the EU. Consumers have become much more assertive and critical. They are entitled to detailed information on food labels, so that they can make informed choices. Our bottom line of course has to remain that all food has to be safe, whether it is organic or not, genetically modified or not, whether it comes from a big or a small farm, from a local butcher or a food multinational".
On the future of the Common Agricultural Policy Byrne expressed the view that there has been a fundamental change in the job agriculture is expected to do since the days of the post-war period - when the people and politicians of Europe worried about food scarcity. "Responsible agriculture nowadays must be viable yet sustainable", he said, "economically, environmentally and socially. We must work more and more with nature and not against it."
The debate comes as food quality is increasingly a subject of concern as consumer expectations appear mismatched with what the market is providing. The Round Table debate looks at local, regional, national, EU-wide and global food production systems and their impact on producers and consumers. The objective is to identify issues requiring further investigation and debate, to understand the driving forces behind consumer and producer behaviour in terms of price versus quality, and the increasing emphasis on ethical values such as the environment, animal health and welfare, and social responsibility.
Commissioner Byrne also pointed out that consumers often define quality on purely subjective criteria such as taste, product presentation and brand image. "But one aspect is not negotiable: food safety and adherence to environmental and animal welfare standards."
"More information, more quality and guaranteed safety - this triad must and will be the guiding force behind our policy," said Mr Byrne. "This summer the European Commission proposed that all genetically-modified foodstuffs and animal feed must be clearly labelled as such - in response to consumer concerns and demands. The European Parliament and national government Ministers represented in the EU Council are now examining these proposals and will take the decision on what the final rules on labelling in the legislation will be. But let me make it perfectly clear that genetically modified food will only be put on the market if it has been scientifically evaluated and proven safe. "
The round-table discussion in Copenhagen further addressed the following issues:
Today's round table is part of an EU wide initiative launched by Commissioners Fischler and Byrne in March this year. Similar Round Table's as today's have already taken place over the past few months in Stockholm, Berlin, Dublin, Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Athens, London and Madrid. Further discussions in other EU capitals are planned. The two Commissioners also discussed the future of food and agriculture policy in an Internet chat on 6 June (http://ec.europa.eu/chat/fischler-byrne/index_en.htm) and in the European Parliament. Early next year, once they will have held their Round Table Discussions in all EU Member States, the Commissioners intend to review the progress made and define further actions.
Further information on the Commission's food and agriculture initiative is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/foodqual/index_en.htm.