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
Really, today is about hearing your
views. Your contribution to our reflections. Your thoughts
on how we might tackle the challenges and opportunities
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
Every single citizen has a role to play
in the drive towards higher food safety standards, better
production methods, thereby ensuring higher quality
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
Commissions 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
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
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
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
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
I do not see why we should not be able
to meet these various aspirations of European
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
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"