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IP/01/1113

Brussels, 26 July 2001

Brussels round table on food and agriculture: European Commission wants to take better account of the public's ethical and ecological concerns

EU Commissioners Franz Fischler (agriculture, rural development and fisheries) and David Byrne (health and consumer protection) met today in Brussels with consumers, farmers, the food industry, trade representatives, scientists and organic farming associations for a round-table discussion on agriculture and food. The round table is part of a Commission action plan for a wide-ranging public debate on society's expectations of food and agricultural policy. With this initiative, the Commission would like to see a discussion on what people expect of farming and the produce they eat. Mr Fischler stressed that the Brussels round table had highlighted the need to take better account of European citizens' ethical and ecological concerns. In Mr Byrne's view, the Brussels discussion had again made it patently clear that today's consumers not only want more detailed information on the food they eat but also are increasingly prepared to pay for good-quality produce.

Mr Fischler said: "I earnestly hope that the wide-ranging public debate about agriculture, which was triggered by BSE and foot-and-mouth, was more than a flash in the media pan. Our round-table discussions are an attempt to keep the momentum going. Today's round-table discussion in Brussels gave me valuable input for the overhaul of the common agricultural policy (CAP). The Commission wants to use the overhaul of the CAP as an opportunity to make the agricultural sector more sustainable and increase resources for rural development policy. Consumers increasingly want quality and are voting with their trolleys in the supermarket. In return, however, they must also be prepared to compensate producers, through the prices they pay, for higher animal welfare, environmental and hygiene standards. Low-price, high-volume and top-quality produce cannot go hand in hand."

Mr Byrne added that consumers were now looking not just for safe food, but also for high-quality products at acceptable prices: "The issue is how this can be achieved and what choice our society will make." He pointed out that the previous round tables in the Member States had demonstrated unequivocally that consumers wanted a clear information policy on food, especially easy-to-understand labelling: "Yesterday, the Commission proposed that all genetically-modified foodstuffs and animal feed be clearly labelled. Consumers have called for this and we were pleased to meet their request.

Let me make it perfectly clear, however, that genetically-modified food will only be put on the market if it has undergone scientific safety tests." Informative and easy-to-understand labelling is a cornerstone of European food policy that is being continually improved and is supported by industrial decision-makers. "I am sure that consumers want to make informed choices and that they want access to the information they need. More information, more quality and guaranteed safety this triad must and will be the guiding force behind our policy," said Mr Byrne.

Both Commissioners pointed out that there were many different sides to food quality because consumers also defined 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."

The round-table discussion in Brussels addressed the following issues:

  • What do citizens expect of a modern farming sector and modern agricultural production and how can EU policies be of help here?

  • How does the agriculture sector differ from other sectors of the economy?

  • Should the European model of agriculture involve even further diversification?

  • How can we promote the sustainability of agriculture economically, environmentally and socially?

  • How can a farming sector that must be competitive on the world market guarantee the production of high-quality food?

  • What do we understand by high-quality food and what is the relationship between a product's quality and its price?

  • Does the retail trade satisfy consumer demand for safe, high-quality food?

Background

Today's round table is part of a wide-ranging initiative devised by Commissioners Fischler and Byrne. In addition to the informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Östersund in March, a number of panels on the future of agriculture and food production have already been held over the past few months in Brussels, Stockholm, Berlin, Dublin, Vienna and Paris. Further round-table discussions (the next in Athens on 10 September) and a meeting with the European Parliament's Consumer Policy Committee in September are planned. The two Commissioners also took part in an Internet chat on 6 June (http://ec.europa.eu/chat/fischler-byrne/index_en.htm) and in a European Parliament hearing and a panel involving the food industry as a whole.

Further information on the Commission's food and agriculture initiative can be found on the Internet at the following address:

http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/foodqual/index_en.htm.


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