Athens, 10 September 2001
Round table on food and agriculture in Athens : EU Commission wants to make agriculture more sustainable
EU Commissioners Franz Fischler (agriculture, rural development and fisheries) and David Byrne (health and consumer protection) met today in Athens 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 food they eat. Mr Fischler stressed that the Athens round table had given him valuable information. "Greek consumers increasingly want quality. They 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." In Mr Byrne's view, the Athens 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 products: "However, our bottom line is that food has to be safe."
Mr Fischler said: "Following the broad public debate triggered by BSE and the Food-and-Mouth-disease, todays round-table discussion was an attempt to keep the momentum going. The Commission wants to use the review of the common agricultural policy (CAP) next year as an opportunity to make the agricultural sector more sustainable and increase resources for rural development policy."
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: "Recently, 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. "Consumers want to make informed choices and 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 Athens 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?
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 Stockholm, Berlin, Dublin, Vienna, Paris and Brussels. Further round-table discussions and a meeting with the European Consumer 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: