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SPEECH/03/329

David BYRNE

European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

Food Safety - Completion of Farm to Fork Approach

Economic and Social Committee

Brussels, 27 June 2003

Over two years have passed since I last appeared before the members of the Economic and Social Committee. A great deal has happened since then.

Today, I would like to set out where we stand regarding the implementation of the ambitious list of actions set out in the White Paper on Food Safety published in January 2000.

I will briefly set out what we have achieved so far, elaborate on three important proposals currently passing through the legislative process and touch briefly on the topical subjects of enlargement and GMOs. I will conclude by drawing attention to forthcoming proposals planned for the remainder of the Commission's mandate.

White Paper on Food Safety

The White Paper on Food Safety was one of the first major initiatives of this Commission.

It sought to crystallise a new vision for European food safety aimed firmly and squarely at putting the consumer first and regaining consumer confidence in our food supply.

Three and a half years later I am pleased to report that we are well on course towards completing our mission.

General food law and EFSA

The landmark Regulation laying down the general principles of food law, encompassing the farm to fork approach, and providing the legal basis for the creation of the European Food Safety Authority came into force in January of last year.

And EFSA itself is now up and running, gathering pace and set to take on the full range of its responsibilities as this year unfolds.

As an independent authority, EFSA is a cornerstone of our approach to food safety placing science at its very centre as the essential foundation on which decisions are based.

The activities of the Authority are based on the principles of the highest levels of independence, of scientific excellence and of transparency.

In addition to the general food law and the creation of EFSA, new carefully targeted legislation is now in force, or expected to come into force soon, covering a whole raft of food safety issues.

Measures on TSEs, animal by-products labelling of feed, undesirable substances in feed, pesticides, food supplements and the withdrawal of antibiotics as growth promoters or as feed additives have all been introduced.

And a number of important proposals are currently going through the legislative process which I hope will be agreed this year.

Food Hygiene package

One important package of measures steadily coming to fruition is the ambitious food hygiene package.

This package of 4 major proposals will apply to all food operators and include effective instruments to manage food safety in all sectors of primary production and processes throughout the entire food chain.

The Hygiene package is an important section of our food safety strategy: it will merge, harmonise and simplify EU hygiene legislation currently covered in 17 separate Directives.

And I should point out here that we have taken care to ensure that our approach takes into account specific realities, while maintaining food safety, a point stressed in your opinion on the Commission proposals.

Our aim is not to stifle innovation or indeed homogenise the vast array of foodstuffs available on the European market. Quite the opposite. Neither do we seek to jeopardise the viability of producers of Europe's many traditional foods who contribute so much to the richness and diversity of European food culture.

Feed Hygiene

Allow me to mention another current issue feed hygiene. Remember feed contamination was at the root of all the recent food crises. The hygienic handling and production of feed is absolutely vital to ensure safe food.

The recently adopted feed hygiene proposal is a key piece in the puzzle to complete the legislative framework of our 'farm to fork' approach.

Official controls for food and feed

I have described the new European food safety system as being built on three pillars.

The first two pillars the revised food and feed legislation and EFSA are now largely in place.

The third pillar is enforcement and control. I am pleased to say that a proposal for official food and feed controls is now passing through the legislative process and is on your agenda for discussion today.

I have long believed that the Community's systems of official controls for food and feed are far from sufficient to meet the demands of the 21st century.

The new proposal is designed to put matters on a sound footing for the next decade, and beyond.

It will improve the efficiency of Member State control services through the better definition of tasks; harmonisation of the role of control services; and integration of controls across the entire food and feed chain.

The proposal will improve the effectiveness of the Commission's control services through a more transparent, strategic and integrated approach to controls.

It will also define enforcement measures, including sanctions, to address cases of non-compliance with food and feed laws.

The adoption of this proposal will improve significantly our ability to manage the food chain making it possible to ensure safer food for European consumers.

The control system will also cover imports of food and feed from third countries including the provision of assistance to developing countries to help them towards meeting our exacting standards.

The aim is simply to ensure that the same standards of food safety apply to all products regardless of origin to protect the integrity of our food safety system as a whole, and give consumers what they should expect safe food.

Enlargement

Indeed, the negotiation phase for enlargement is now complete and the Commission's focus has shifted to monitoring commitments, transposition of legislation and implementation in the acceding countries.

I have made it clear from the outset that enlargement cannot be allowed to weaken the overall security of our food safety systems.

There are still concerns about delays in transposition in the acceding countries, the quality of the transposed legislation and continued evidence of implementation problems in certain areas such as Border Inspection Posts and Establishments.

Many problems need to be resolved and significant improvements need to be made between now and accession.

I can assure you that the Commission is doing its utmost to give help and guidance. But we are also counting on the future Member States to deliver.

If deficiencies remain, safeguard measures can be triggered to ensure that standards are maintained and that consumers are not put at risk.

GMOs

At this point, I would like to say a few words about GMOs one of the most sensitive dossiers within my remit.

In November last year, we finally managed to reach political agreement in the Council on food and animal feed containing or derived from GMOs. This was no easy task.

We needed to ensure that our proposed authorisation system is in line with the latest scientific and international developments.

Our proposal strikes a balance between the demands of consumers for clear and accurate information, and the technical realities.

I hope that the European Parliament will lend their support to the GM Food/Feed legislation on second reading next week.

Forthcoming proposals

To finish I would like to mention some proposals that are currently in the pipeline and expected to be adopted within this legislative term.

This year I intend to present some important new initiatives in the area of nutrition. We will define and set conditions for nutritional claims and health claims within a single legislative proposal which I expect to be adopted very soon.

I also intend to make a proposal on the subject of nutritional labelling and one on functional foods.

The fundamental point behind these initiatives is that that consumers should be able to make choices based on clear and accurate information.

Other future food and feed related proposals will include novel foods, dietetic foods, flavourings, feed materials and a framework for food additives.

Finally I should mention the important and long-awaited proposal on animal transport which is due to be adopted before the August break.

Conclusion

In conclusion, may I say that I have been forcefully struck by the high level and quality of support the Economic and Social Committee has given to my proposals. I greatly value that and, in the interests of our citizens, I look forward to enjoying your support in the future.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.


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