Brussels, 18 December 2002
Results of Agricultural Council December 2002
Hygiene rules for food of animal origin
The Council reached political agreement by unanimity on the second of the five proposals on simplification of the EU hygiene rules. David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the measure which was proposed by the Commission as part of its general hygiene package. Food of animal origin is particularly prone to microbiological and chemical hazards. This measure aims to prevent hazards to human health arising from such food. The legislation focuses on setting objectives while leaving business flexibility in deciding which safety measures to take (See IP/02/1890).
Additives in animal nutrition
The Council reached political agreement by qualified majority on new rules for the authorisation of feed additives. David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the new EU Regulation which will strengthen the control of all types of additives in animal feed, but in particular it completes the EU´s drive to phase out antibiotics as growth promoters. Strengthening rules on the safety of animal feed is one of the cornerstones of the EU's food safety strategy. Banning the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in feed is also vital to efforts to combat anti-microbial resistance (See IP/02/1891).
The Council also reached political agreement by qualified majority on the proposal on the Commission proposal of May 2000 (see IP/00/519) to amend current legislation(1) prohibiting the use of all hormones as growth promoters. Scientific opinion has repeatedly confirmed that such use of hormones in cattle poses a health risk to consumers. (See also IP/02/1888)
The Council adopted Conclusions on the Commission's Communication on Animal Welfare in third countries, welcoming the points outlined in the paper (see IP/02/1697) and Conclusions on mutual assistance as regards international controls for animal welfare.
Commissioner Byrne updated the Council on the state of play of the forthcoming Commission proposal revising the animal transport directive ad the result of the public stakeholders consultation in December on animal transport. Over 4000 citizens from all over Europe expressed their agreement on the broad measures that the Commission intends to propose to the Council.
The message, received loud and clear, was: maintaining the status quo is clearly not acceptable. And weaknesses in the current legislation must be addressed. A vast majority demand better regulation on space allowances and on the standards of transportation. At the same time, stricter conditions for the approval of transporters are called for - as well as a harmonised licensing system for drivers. On the issue of travelling times he pointed out that the welfare of animals in transport concerns much more than the single issue of travelling times. They are important - but this issue should not deflect attention from other key issues, which also have a major bearing on animal welfare in transport. Effective implementation is essential if legislation is to work. Legislation, on its own, is largely meaningless if the time, effort and resources are not invested in its implementation. (See MEMO/02/295).
Acrylamide in foodstuffs
Germany asked for a EU-wide strategy to combat acrylamides in foodstuffs. The Commission is well aware of the early findings on acrylamide in food. Commissioner David Byrne said that the Commission had initiated a series of actions in response to this in particular a consultation of the Scientific Committee on Food and an exchange of information and data collection with the Member States' experts and other stakeholders. This issue affects a wide range of foods, through all stages of production and preparation whether industrial, commercial or in the home. One of the objectives pursued by the Commission is to understand how to reduce the levels of acrylamide formed during the processing and cooking of food.
To this end, the Commission is establishing a database, which will summarise activities in relation to acrylamide in food in the EU, on the basis of submissions by the Member States and other stakeholders. The database will provide a complete picture of all work in the EU on this issue and will be a critical element in ensuring a co-ordinated approach. The database will be up and running within a few weeks and will be accessible to all stakeholders. It should help the Commission to establish guides of good practice to reduce levels of acrylamide in food.
In addition, the Commission's Joint Research Centre is preparing to validate methods to test for acrylamide. It will hold a technical workshop in the New Year. To address some of the longer term research needs, the new framework research programme includes a topic in this area.
The Council adopted two decisions that conclude the agreements with the US and Canada on the modification of our cereals import regime, as well as the amendment to the cereals basic regulation. "The new import system to be implemented as from the 1st of January addresses the problem we have been facing since late 2001, when our border protection collapsed for the lower qualities of wheat and for barley as a result of very low priced imports from the Black Sea region.
The new system will establish import quotas for these commodities, in full respect of our obligations under WTO, and in agreement with the two countries which have WTO negotiation rights. At the same time, the import regime for the other cereals will remain unchanged, as there is no compelling economic need to modify it."
"I understand that some are concerned about the effects of these decisions in our relations with two non-WTO Members - Russia and the Ukraine. We have been actively consulting with both with a view to find reasonable solutions. Those consultations have not as yet been concluded, but I am committed to a balanced outcome, and I am encouraged by the progress in the talks. I should also point out that whilst the quotas will be largely open to Russian and Ukrainian exports, I am also prepared to consider granting them the benefit of country quotas in the near future, as it is the case now for the United States and Canada.", Mr Fischler stressed
The Council discussed a working document by the Commission services on the state of work with regard to the European Action plan for organic food and farming. "Organic farming has many positive connotations with respect to environmentally and animal welfare friendly methods of production with the emphasis on recycling and one form of a sustainable type of agriculture. Many consumers certainly also see organic farming as a quality aspect with organic farming avoiding the input of pesticides, herbicides etc. used in conventional farming. The CAP recognises the importance and the potential of organic farming by way of the support measures, in particular in the form of support for conversion to organic farming, and not least the support under the agri-environment heading under Pillar II. However, we must also be attentive to the demand side, since it would be unfortunate, if we were inviting producers to go down the road of organic farming without ensuring that the increased production would find a remunerative outlet. Clearly organic production entails higher production costs because of lower productivity, lack of economies of scale, distribution costs etc. These costs have to be covered by the market price in order to make it profitable for farmers.
Our work with regard to the action plan therefore is focusing on some of these key questions:
We intend to continue the process of consultation and are reflecting on the idea of organising a public hearing some time next spring in order to give further impetus to the process. My idea is to inform the Council later in the summer with the objective of coming up with a report and proposals by the end of 2003. This timetable I think is still realistic, but in light of what I have said above the action plan should perhaps more be seen as a continuous process, and therefore we should not expect definitive answers to all our questions come this time next year.", Commissioner Fischler said.
Co-existence of GM and non GM seeds
The Italian delegation raised this point. Mr Fischler said that the Commission was actively considering all aspects of the co-existence of GM crop cultivation and other forms of agriculture. "We are examining the need, and possible options, for agronomic and other measures to ensure the viability of conventional and organic farming and their sustainable co-existence with GM crops. We should remember that the issue of co-existence is not one of risk per se, given we are dealing with cultivation of AUTHORISED GMOs. I agree with Italy that setting thresholds for seeds is particularly important, the Commission is currently preparing a draft directive amending the annexes of the seed directive." Fischler underlined.
(1)Council Directive 96/22/EC