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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 9 April 2001

Food quality debate continues in Östersund

A review of agri-food production systems will be firmly on the European Union's agenda on the strength of the EU-wide debate on food quality launched by Commissioners Byrne and Fischler at the beginning of March 2001. This is likely to be underlined by the discussions held by the Agriculture Ministers from the fifteen Member States tomorrow in Östersund, Sweden.The Presidency had called the informal ministerial meeting to have an in depth discussion on all of the key policy issues concerning the food chain. EU policy has moved on from a focus on quantity, which is assured, and on safety, which is a given. Issues concerned with quality in its broadest sense must receive increasing attention from all players in the food chain. Sustainability would be the key message for the future.

Commenting on the issues to be discussed, Commissioner Fischler said, "When the people of Europe sit down to eat they want good, healthy food on their plates. This is not an optional extra. It is vital for consumers and farmers alike. We have to continuously assure that our produce is grown and harvested with care for the crops, the environment and the animals. In moving more and more towards a sustainable agriculture, we have to work with the farmers, because they are the first link in the food chain. The future of our food is the future of our farmers."

Commissioner Byrne stated, "There are increasing concerns voiced by consumers about the sustainability of modern European agriculture methods and how this impacts on the food chain. More people are concerned about production methods, on the farm and in food processing plants, and this in turn is fuelling demands for change. We are listening and helping drive that change. One key issue that we are looking at are the relationships between price and quality."

The Commission welcomed the constructive part to be played by the discussions in Ostersund towards opening up the food quality debate in a constructive manner. Topics would be discussed under three broad headings - Production, Consumers and the Role of Society. While no formal conclusions would be reached as is the norm for informal councils, there is nevertheless likely to be a consensus by the Member States around the Commission's food quality debate and a sense of urgency that all actors in the food chain across the Member States would have to be increasingly involved.

As part of the two Commissioners action plan( 1) for rolling our the debate, they announced the following specific events:

Germany: Round Table - Berlin (7 June 2001)

France: Round Table - Paris (11 July 2001)

Belgium: Internet-Chat - Brussels (6 June 2001 at 18:00)

The round tables, which will be held in all member states over the next nine months, will bring together with the Commissioners players from all parts of the food chain from primary production through processing industries to retailers and consumers. The internet-chat will be a key modern medium facilitating the involvement of many fellow citizens across the Union who wish to express their views and ask questions directly of the Commissioners.

They also announced that, with the active co-operation of Research Commissioner Busquin, they would host a Round Table on the Role of Research in Food Quality, date and venue to be decided.

Research plays an important role in supporting food safety and quality initiatives throughout the European Union. The 5 th Framework Programme will have allocated €500 million to food research between 1998 and 2002. Over €600 million has been earmarked for similar research from 2003 to 2006 under the next framework programme.

Examples of research being conducted include projects on:

- Organic farming - the European network for research co-ordination in organic farming

- Animal transport/meat quality - minimising stress inducing factors on cattle during handling and transport to improve animal welfare and meat quality

- Sheep meat - using genetics to improve the quality and safety of sheep products

- Frozen foods - the preservation of frozen food quality and safety throughout the distribution chain

- Coeliac disease - to establish its prevalence in the EU, to characterise its genetic basis and to identify trigger factors

Released on 10/04/2001


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