"Quality production: the new challenge of the CAP", EP
Agriculture Committee, Brussels, 20 June 2001 - Statement
by David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and
I am delighted to have the opportunity
this afternoon to address this important public hearing on
such a topical subject.
As the Commissioner responsible for
Health and Consumer Protection I am looking forward to
sharing with you some of my thoughts on the vital task we
all have ahead of us in ensuring both safety and quality of
the European Food Supply Chain.
May I thank Mr. Graefe zu Baringdorf, as
Chairman of the Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and
Rural Development, for his initiative in organising this
hearing. I am also grateful for the participation of Ms.
Jackson, Chairman of the Parliament's Committee on the
Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy. And I
believe that it is important that we will also hear, during
this opening session, from the current President of the
Agriculture Council, Ms Winberg.
This opening line up, representing the
three legislative institutions of the Community, should
send out a very strong message to the public at large that
we are all working together towards creating the right
conditions for the generation of consumer confidence in
safe, quality foodstuffs.
As representatives of European citizens,
we know better than anybody else that the public's demands
and expectations as regards food safety have never been
higher. And confidence is indeed very fragile. Many of the
concerns of our fellow citizens arise because we have had a
number of high profile food safety crises over recent
The BSE crisis highlighted, in
particular, that food safety issues transcend borders and
need Community-wide public health responses. Indeed the
recent Foot and Mouth Disease crisis, although not a public
health issue, has again brought into sharp relief the need
for co-ordinated and concerted action to address the animal
health and economic issues involved.
It is common sense that every single
citizen has a part to play in the drive towards higher food
safety standards and better production methods, thereby
ensuring higher quality foodstuffs.
But public authorities have a special
role to play in this evolving scenario by raising the
standard of debate and indeed playing leading roles in the
"Food Quality" is an issue that has
concerned my colleague Agriculture Commissioner Franz
Fischler and myself for some time now. We have come to the
conclusion that food safety is an intrinsic part of quality
Indeed, 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
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 chain are constantly changing. We are eating 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
the richness and diversity of foods to be preserved and
I am very sensitive to this aspect, and
as much as I think that general safety rules should be laid
out to ensure the same protection and confidence for
consumers throughout Europe, I believe that we must also
respect traditional methods of food production. Always
ensuring, of course, that such traditional methods do not
compromise essential food safety standards.
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
When we look at the three interwoven
components of good food, that is safety, quality and
nutrition, we can see how they become equally keys to
production and consumption.
It is for all those reasons that I have
taken the initiative, together with my colleague
Commissioner Franz Fischler, to start a broad
debate on food quality, safety and production.
Indeed we need to develop common understandings of the
issues that people have concerns about and common
understandings of how policy responses can be
We commenced this food quality debate by
way of a high level Round Table here in Brussels with
leading food producers, retailers, consumer experts and
scientists. We are in the process of following this up with
similar round tables in the Member States.
We have also reached out directly to our
citizens in an internet-chat on June 6
th, focused specifically on food quality and
production issues. This generated very significant
interest, which confirms the importance of continuing the
This is the way I would like to see us
move forward in Europe -
towards a more sustainable way of producing and
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 animal
While the European food supply is
amongst the safest in the world, we need a greater emphasis
integrated and comprehensive approach, considering
food safety, wholesomeness and quality, in conjunction with
economic, environmental and ethical matters at all stages
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
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 gives consumers maximum opportunity for
individual 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.
The Commission has made an important
contribution to the debate on sustainable development in
our recent Communication - "A Sustainable Europe for a
Better World: A European Union Strategy for Sustainable
Development". This was our contribution on this topic to
last weekend's European Council at Gothenburg.
In that document we identified that
all policies must have sustainable development as
their core concern. In particular, we said that the
forthcoming reviews of Common Policies must look at how
they can contribute more positively to sustainable
Specifically, we indicated that the
mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy next year
should reward quality rather than quantity by, for example,
encouraging the organic sector and other
environmentally-friendly farming methods and a further
shift of resources from market support to rural
In line with the holistic nature of this
Communication we also confirmed that threats to food safety
are of increasing concern. Accordingly, among our headline
objectives we committed to making food safety and quality
the objective of all players in the food chain.
We would achieve this objective by
improving consumer information and awareness, including
through education, and clear labelling of food. A key
priority will be the creation of the European Food
Authority in 2002.
I am pleased that the European Council
last weekend endorsed our general approach to sustainable
development and, in particular, in the food arena.
It is incumbent on us all to bring this
strategy forward. For my part, I will continue to pursue
assiduously, the Food Safety Action Plan of the
Commission's White Paper on Food Safety. We will also pilot
the European Food Authority into being by the beginning of
Since becoming European Commissioner for
Health and Consumer Protection, I have been struck by the
need to consult and listen to peoples' concerns. It is only
through such a consultation and listening process, can we
hope to formulate the best policies in the interests of all
The results of this Public Hearing, and
the Round Table process being undertaken by Franz Fischler
and myself, will be taken fully into account in the
development of policy towards a Sustainable European Food
Model, in the mid-term review of Agenda 2000, and in the
reform of the Common Agricultural Policy post 2006.
I take the point that the issues
involved here are complex and multi-faceted, but that makes
this kind of public hearing all the more interesting and
I thank you for your attention and look
forward to participating in the discussion later.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"