Nyborg, 10 September 2002
David Byrne: European food sector has to drive innovation
Innovation in the farming and food sector is a vital issue to which Europe will need to devote significant attention and energy in the coming years. David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said at the Informal Agriculture Council in Nyborg today, that he regards it as essential in relation to food safety, tracability, food quality, new products and animal welfare. European policies look to further development on the basis of increased interaction between enterprise, research and consumer policies.
Commissioner Byrne said: "European consumers expect the food they eat to be safe and of high quality. They value variety of choice. They also expect it to be produced in accordance with good farming practices with respect for the environment and for the welfare of animals. They want to be informed, in a precise and accurate manner, about the composition, nutritional value, durability, origin and, in certain cases, the method of production of the food offered to them."
Byrne recognised that biotechnology had the potential to offer huge possibilities for future innovation in terms of cheaper, safer and more cost-effective production. The proposals presented by the Commission for tracability and labelling of GM-food and GM-feed provide a sound and balanced platform on which to build. "It is important that innovation in the biotech field is not impeded by emotional reactions and apprehension based on inadequate or biased information. There can however, be no question of compromising safety public health or the environment", said Byrne. However, Byrne went on to warn that there was no point talking about innovation in the abstract if progress was not made on starting new GMO authorisations and ending the so-called moratorium.
Innovation: Conservation of traditional foodstuffs
Byrne made also clear that he believed that while politicians look to future innovation, European consumers at the same time are very sensitive to the extraordinary fine and diverse European food culture and the important role that traditional food plays. The recast of the European food hygiene legislation provides some flexibility at national level to accommodate traditional food enterprises, with the provision that food hygiene must not be compromised. Moreover the mid-term review proposals make better provision to financially support such enterproses.
Innovation: Animal welfare
The well being of animals is one of the most prominent public issues affecting the development of European farming. According to Byrne, the definition of quality now includes aspects such as the method of production used, environmental and animal welfare considerations. Husbandry systems and the breeding of animals in Europe must be further modernised to better reflect the welfare needs of animals. Byrne said: "I know that some see these developments as prohibitive by increasing production costs and argue that these costs could place EU producers at a competitive disadvantage. However, research has shown that significant welfare improvements can be achieved at very low cost, and that a substantial part of these costs can be recovered by the added value achieved by welfare-friendly products."
Innovation: enlargement no contradiction
The European Union is on the threshold of a historic enlargement which will create a new, dynamic framework for the development of policy. Byrne expects that the prospect of a market of over 420 million will encourage and act as an impetus to further innovation. In the area of food safety the countries that want to join the EU must make sure they have the same strict laws in place as well as proper controls throughout the whole food chain on the correct application of those laws. David Byrne said: " We will continue the proactive approach we have taken both to helping the applicant countries with their preparations and monitoring their progress. It is a matter of personal importance to me to participate actively in the preparation process. The remainder of 2002 and early 2003 is the key period for transforming the commitments and good will of the Candidate Countries into substantive action. I can give my assurance that both I myself and my services will do our utmost to give our help and guidance."
The Commission will now shift the focus of effort to monitoring commitments that have been made and the transposition and implementation of legislation. The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) plays an important role monitoring the level of observance of food hygiene and of veterinary and plant health legislation in the candidate countries. Inspection visits to applicant countries have been a top priority for 2002. After a series of general assessment missions to all candidate countries more detailed assessments have started. Their objective is to monitor the progress the accession countries make in implementing EU law. For 2002 they concentrate on 10 of the candidate countries with 4-5 inspections each. This inspection programme takes up 25% of the FVO resources.