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Health and Consumer Protection

Speeches Commissioner Byrne

Speech by David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Opening Remarks, Round Table on Food Quality, Safety and Production, Berlin, 7th June 2001

Firstly, may I thank the participants in this round table in Berlin for the time they are giving to this important exercise which Franz Fischler and I have launched throughout the European Union.

Last night we both held an internet chat on these issues and the response, both in terms of the number of questions/participants and the breath of subjects covered was impressive. If nothing else, it put in perspective the interest and scale of the exercise upon which we have embarked on behalf of the European Commission.

Really, today is about hearing your views. Your contribution to our reflections. Your thoughts on how we might tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead.

As representatives of actors throughout the food chain, you know better than anybody else that consumer confidence and the confidence of trading partners is key to the success of the food industry in Europe and in the global market place.

However, many of the concerns of our fellow citizens arise because we have had a number of high profile food safety crises over recent years. The BSE crisis highlighted, in particular, that food safety issues transcend borders and need Community-wide public health responses.

Every single citizen has a role to play in the drive towards higher food safety standards, better production methods, thereby ensuring higher quality foodstuffs.

Indeed, recent unprecedented waves of public concern have highlighted the need for all those involved in producing, manufacturing or supplying food, on the one hand, and the official bodies responsible for regulating and controlling food safety standards, on the other, to play their part in ensuring that the highest standards are achieved and maintained.

A safe food chain from farm to fork, correctly regulated and effectively controlled is the road to building this confidence. Food businesses have their role to play in this regard, as ultimately it is the responsibility of every business to ensure the safety of the foods they produce, manufacture or sell.

The Commission is committed to ensuring that European consumers have access to the safest food supply in the world. Food safety has to be the driving force in the regulation of the food supply. In addition our legislation must be modern and flexible enough to regulate a highly technologically advanced European food industry while, at the same time, to provide sufficient safeguards in smaller more traditional food businesses.

You will have seen our thoughts on how we should deliver on our objectives in the White Paper on Food Safety, which we published last year.

As set out in the White Paper, the CommissionÂ’s proposal for a Regulation laying down the general principles and requirements of food law and establishing the European Food Authority is the cornerstone in our overall strategy. This proposal is now the subject of scrutiny in the European Parliament and in the Council.

Significant progress is being made and I am increasingly optimistic that the Council will be able to reach political agreement on this vital piece of legislation before the end of June. The European Parliament will vote on its opinion on our proposals next week in Strasbourg.

This rate of progress is absolutely critical if we are all to live up to my own desire and that of the Heads of State and Government to have the Food Authority up and running from early next year as requested by the European Council in Stockholm last March.

The only way to face the controversy surrounding many matters relating to food law and, particularly in relation to such innovative matters as biotechnology applied to food, is to promote a transparent, open-minded and balanced dialogue between all stakeholders - scientists, industry, farmers and consumers.

Furthermore, we have to accept and respect the consumers' right to have clear information in order to take informed decisions on which products they want to buy. Compromising on food safety is not a way for a farm or a company to reduce costs. It is actually a very dangerous path, not only for consumers, but also for the farm or company itself and for the whole sector involved.

The public's demands and expectations have never been higher and confidence is very fragile. We have one of the best informed, discerning and sophisticated groups of consumers in the world. My intention is to ensure that they can believe in the rules, administrations and systems we are putting in place to guarantee the safety of the European food supply.

European consumers will settle for no less than safe food – and they are right. But they expect the food that they eat and feed to their children to be more than just safe.

Consumers expect food to meet their nutritional needs, to be wholesome and tasty. They expect to be able to choose amongst a wide variety of foods. They expect their food to be produced and processed in accordance with good farming practices, with greater respect for the environment and for the welfare of animals. And they expect to be informed, in a precise and accurate manner, about the composition, the nutritional value, the durability, the origin, and, in certain cases, the method of production of the food offered to them.

As we enter the 21 st century, the challenges facing the European food supply are constantly changing. We eat a greater variety of foods throughout the year, not only from all over the European Union, but from all around the world. We value the extraordinarily fine food culture of our European nations and we are eager to discover different foods coming from the equally rich food cultures of other continents.

We eat more and more food prepared outside our own homes. We witness - sometimes sceptically - how technology is increasingly being used to make foods safer, more nutritious or more palatable. And we cherish the regional culinary traditions that we have inherited from our parents and grandparents.

It is therefore important that Europe allows all the richness and diversity of foods to be preserved and developed. I am very sensitive to this aspect.

I do not see why we should not be able to meet these various aspirations of European consumers.

I do not believe there needs to be a contradiction between our demand for quality products, at affordable prices, and our quest for a high level of food safety. We can reap the benefits of technical progress, improve the protection of our environment, and not give up any of our extraordinary food traditions.

When we look at these three interwoven components of good food, that is safety, quality and nutrition, we can see how they become equally keys to production and consumption.

This is the way I would like to see us move forward in Europe - towards a more sustainable way of producing and consuming food.

Modern food production methods themselves have raised matters of public concern beyond human health and safety in relation to environmental and ethical aspects of agri-food production, including sustainable development, animal health and welfare.

While the European food supply is amongst the safest in the world, we need a greater emphasis on an integrated and comprehensive approach, considering food safety, wholesomeness and quality, in conjunction with economic, environmental and ethical matters at all parts of the production chain.

We need to consider a new food production/consumption model, which would be focused less on output and more on meeting consumer expectations for safe, wholesome, nutritious and diversified foods. In other words, food safety and food quality would not be regarded as discrete objectives, but rather as entwined components of a sustainable food production/consumption model.

I am convinced that the key to meeting those ambitions is to take an integrated approach to food production. One that would place a greater emphasis on quality, within an integrated and comprehensive approach to the entire food chain. One that is uncompromising on safety. One that would give consumers real choice. One that would take into account that eating should be a pleasure and should also be wholesome. And that it should be conducive to our overall good health and well being.

I look forward to your views in bringing our debate forward towards shaping common policies for the future.


Speeches Commissioner Byrne



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