Speech by David
Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection : A Future in Food - Ingredients for Success,
Food Industry Information Day, Dublin, 31 May 2001
First of all let me thank Joe Walsh,
T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development,
for inviting me and my colleague Franz Fischler here this
morning to say "cupla focail" to you on such an important
On Joe's behalf, and my own, may I join
with you in welcoming Franz to Dublin to mark the occasion
of the launch of Ireland's Food Quality Strategy as part of
the National Development Plan. We both work closely
together in the Commission to further the interests of
European agriculture and food production. In particular,
Ireland's vital interest in both primary production and
processed food is never far from centre stage. Indeed, if
the Treaty of Nice allowed it, I am sure that Franz would
be made an honorary Irish farmer, such is his deep
understanding of Irish agri food production!
We have both launched a major European
initiative. That is, a wide- ranging debate on food
quality, food safety and food production.
Why have we done this? Why should we
bother? Perhaps we should leave market forces alone to do
the job for us? And what would happen if we did? Indeed,
would the people of the European Union be better off if we
did butt out? Or, indeed, would they be much worse
The answers to these questions are
obvious, as I know they are to Franz too.
It is only both of us, at European
Commission level, who can pull all the strands of this
diverse debate together. We are here to defend and improve
the European agri-model. But we are also in the business of
assisting in its reform to deliver to all our people what
they want. Consumers who want high quality products at
affordable prices, citizens who want environmentally
friendly farming, supporting those farmers who truly wish
to stay on the land and exporters who desire competitive
These may sound like competing demands.
And of course they are. But let me say one thing. If modern
farming and agri-production is demand led - the consumer is
king or queen - then we are on the road to exactly what the
European Commission wants. An agricultural model and food
production model that is sustainable - economically,
socially and environmentally.
Franz and I have spoken about this
approach on many occasions and we are in complete agreement
on this, what I might call, new way. But this is not a
panacea for everything.
There is often the impression that
farmers have it good, that they are ahead of the pack,
benefiting from a massive subsidy regime. It is true that
some farmers have done very well for themselves. And I
applaud those who have done so. They have not only done a
service to themselves, they have done a favour to the
European Union. But let us remember that most farmers in
the European Union, Ireland being in particular case in
part, are small farmers.
Across the European Union, the average
size of farms is about 18 hectares (
+ 44 acres) - hardly ranching. They don't benefit
from a 39 hour working week, let alone a 35 hour working
week. It is a dawn to dusk operation. With an increasing
number of part-time farmers, the innate attraction of the
land is diminishing.
As someone who was brought up in a small
rural community, I understand that very well. Franz
Fischler from a rural background in another small Member
State (Austria) also understands that better than most. And
I am glad to say that concerns in the European Union on
this issue are developing.
Nevertheless, we are seeking the best
possible means to support the European agricultural model
and European agri-production towards a sustainable way
forward within the European Union and on the world
In this context, let me put my consumer
hat on. And, in case anyone thinks otherwise, permit me to
say that both Franz and I wear the same consumer hat, the
same consumer jersey, the same consumer shorts.
Put simply, if the consumer doesn't want
to buy, then the consumer won't. Simple as that.
And that goes for the consumer in Dublin
or Berlin or Vienna. Or consumers in markets outside the
The wide-ranging debate that Franz and I
are promoting right across the Member States is
multi-faceted. We are posing a number of questions wherever
we go. These include :
- What is expected from a modern
agricultural production sector and how can EU policy
- What makes the agricultural sector
different from any other industry?
- Should a European agricultural model
be more diversified?
- How can we enhance sustainability in
agriculture economically, environmentally and
- How can a world competitive
agricultural sector provide for the production of high
- What are the dimensions of quality
food produce and how does quality relate to price?
- Does the food-retailing sector satisfy
consumer demand for safe, quality food?
Clearly I am not expecting answers to
these questions here today. But I would like participants
to reflect on these issues and let us have your considered
reflections as quickly as possible.
But it is not just actors in the food
chain we need to hear from. We need to hear what society
expects and needs. Increasing concerns are being expressed
about, for example, animal welfare issues, whether related
to facilities at production level or in transport. Concerns
are also expressed about the continued use of antibiotics
for purposes other than for veterinary reasons. In this
regard, let me re-iterate my commitment to phasing out the
use of antibiotics in animal feed. Reliance on more
"natural" methods of production is also an increasing
objective of many. And, of course, there are the legitimate
demands for safe food.
I sincerely hope that with the ideas
that Franz will now outline, you will gain insights into
the Commission's thinking on the future shape of farming
and other agri-food support measures. The focus will be
increasingly on better rewards for better production and
for better quality. This is something that Ireland is
particularly well placed to benefit from. I feel sure that,
with Ireland's very positive reputation in this area, the
Irish food-producing sector can start to offer European
consumers the high quality produce they are seeking into
I know that people in the food industry
represented here this morning are concerned about the vital
issues of quality, safety and production that the European
Commission is putting firmly on the agenda. I believe that
the whole objective of the strategy being launched today is
upgrade the processing sector to the highest possible
standards of safety and quality. I applaud your initiative
and wish you every success in its implementation.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"