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Brussels, 28 June 2001

European Food Authority: Political agreement in Council

Commissioner David Byrne today welcomed the political agreement in the Council of Ministers on the Commission proposal setting up the European Food Authority (EFA) and laying down general principles of EU food law. The proposal is the cornerstone of the EU food safety strategy. The Council supports the Commission's integrated approach to safety along the entire food chain and a broad remit for the activities of the Authority. The core task of the European Food Authority will be to provide independent scientific advice and support, and to set up a network for close co-operation with similar bodies in Member States. It will assess risks related to the food chain and give the general public information about food risks. The draft regulation on which Ministers reached agreement incorporates about half of the amendments put forward by the European Parliament on June 12. It does not deal with the question of the location of the Authority. The Commission does not agree with the position adopted by the Council in relation to the composition of the Management Board. The legislation will now go to second reading in the Parliament before final adoption by Council.

"I very much appreciate the excellent work of the Swedish Presidency in reaching agreement and wish to thank them for their expediency and skill in untying the sometimes complicated knots" the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne said today. "National Ministers and Parliament have proven their commitment to getting this Authority in place at the earliest possible date. They have recognised we must deliver thorough measures to reinforce the fragile public confidence in the capacity of the food industry and public authorities to ensure that food is safe. The Göteborg European Council has insisted on the rapid final adoption of the Regulation so that the timetable set by the Nice and Stockholm summits are respected - meaning an operational Food Authority early in 2002. I trust the Belgian Presidency will do its utmost to quickly resolve the outstanding issues between Parliament and Council. I regret that the Council could not agree to the Commission's proposals concerning the composition of the Food Authority's Management Board".

The principle features of the European Food Authority are set out in MEMO/01/248 of 28 June 2001. Below only the issues are summarised which differ from the original proposal of the Commission and the opinion of the European Parliament.

Scope of the Authority

The Council supports the Commission's and Parliament's approach that general principles of food law should cover the whole food chain, including the safety of feed for food-producing animals. It also supports the broad remit of the Food Authority which will allow it to make scientific assessments of any matter which may have a direct of indirect effect on the safety of the food supply including animal health, animal welfare and plant health. The Authority will also give scientific advice on non-food/feed GMOs and on nutrition. It will therefore cover all stages of production and supply, from primary production, safety of animal feeds, right through to the supply of food to consumers. This broad remit is not fully shared by the European Parliament. The Council equally supports - as do Commission and Parliament - the EFA's role as a major risk communicator providing information on food safety to the general public. The Council agrees with the European Parliament that the Commission should continue to operate the Rapid Alert System.

Management Board

The Council after extended discussions found agreement on the composition of the EFA Management Board and the process for nomination of its members. The Council wants it to be composed of 16 members appointed by the Council after consultation of the European Parliament. In this scenario, the Commission would draw up a list of a substantially larger number of suitable candidates for the Board. At least four of the sixteen would have backgrounds in organisations representing consumers and other interest in the food chain. The Commission would have one representative on the EFA Management Board. The Council establishes as an objective that the choice of board members should secure the highest standards of competence and the broadest possible geographic distribution within the European Union. The Commission has proposed 4 representatives of Council, 4 representatives of the Parliament, 4 representatives of the Commission and 4 representatives of consumer organisations and other stakeholders. It considers that, particularly in the light of the position taken by the European Parliament in favour of a board composition based on the highest standards of competence, procedures need to be specified that will provide practical means for ensuring the professional excellence of board members. It also considers that further reflection on this matter should lead to an acceptable convergence of the views of the different institutions in the subsequent stages of the legislative process.

Food law

The basic principles of food law as outlined in the proposal require a high level of health protection and require that only safe food be placed on the market. The primary responsibility for safe food is to rest with industry, producers and suppliers, while competent authorities in the Member States are to ensure that the respect of food legislation is effectively controlled at all points in the chain from farm to table, including in animal feed manufacturing establishments. The proposed regulation will also make it mandatory for businesses to have systems in place for tracing from whom they have purchased foods and to whom they have supplied them.

Next steps

The Council is expected formally to adopt a Common Position early on under the Belgian Presidency. A second reading of the draft regulation in the European Parliament and Council will then follow, before final adoption can take place. The Belgian Presidency has committed itself to facilitating an early decision on the set up of the Authority. In fact, the Presidency has indicated to the Commission that they wish to see the Authority established by the end of this year if possible.

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