European Commissioner David Byrne to the Group of the
European People Party and European Democrats in the
European Parliament (EPP/ED), Brussels , 27/09/2000 - A
European food Authority
I was delighted to accept the invitation
to speak to the European Parliament Group of the European
People's Party and European Democrats concerning the
Commissions plans to establish a European Food
I very much welcome this opportunity to
set out my views and to engage in what I am sure will be an
interesting exchange of views.
I would like to take this opportunity to
give you a clear insight into my thinking and that of the
Commission on the subject of the proposed European Food
I know that many of you are contributing
to this subject in the Environment and other committees in
the context of formulating Parliaments opinion on the
Commissions White Paper on Food Safety.
The establishment of a European Food
Authority is a key element of the White Paper.
We see its establishment as an essential
foundation stone in our endeavours to overhaul Europes
food safety regime.
Why should we go down this road to
create a new structure? What will its "value-added" be? Why
are national and regional systems not enough? Why not
maintain the status quo?
In answer to these very pertinent
questions, let me go back a little in time, indeed to the
previous Commission and the previous Parliament when the
issue of BSE was very sharply in focus.
That episode clearly demonstrated that
Europes capacity to deal with such an alarming development
was inadequate. In the light of that the Commission
restructured the system of scientific advice at Community
level. The scientific committees were restructured with a
view to putting in place a system of scientific advice that
was focused on promoting a high level of public health
I have to say that that new system has
served us well in the interim. Excellent advice has emerged
from the eight sectoral scientific committees and the
scientific steering committee. This advice has formed the
basis of many far reaching legislative measures that the
Commission has initiated, and which the Parliament and
Council have adopted. These measures have had a very
significant impact on improving public health protection
for our citizens throughout the European Union.
Of course all systems face new
challenges and must be attuned to ever changing needs. Upon
coming to office just over one year ago, Europe was faceing
new food alerts dioxin, sludge, e-coli, listeria,
salmonella. Consumer confidence bottomed out. There was a
real questioning of the capacity of "the system", whether
at national level or European level, to protect
People were legitimately asking why
cant I go to the shop and be sure that what I am buying is
safe and wont pose a threat to my health and my childrens
health? We were all asking similar questions and searching
That is why the new Commission, under
the leadership of President Prodi, put the issue of food
safety at the top of its priority list. That is why I set
about producing a coherent plan to tackle the issue. That
is why I produced our White Paper so quickly. And that is
why a European Food Authority is central to our plans to
improve food safety and restore consumer confidence.
It quickly became apparent to me that we
needed major structural change if we were to achieve a high
level of consumer protection and restore confidence.
Looking across the Atlantic, I saw that
the American public placed great confidence in the work of
the US Food and Drugs Administration. An institution that
was science-based. But also an institution that was
involved in management and legislation.
I concluded that such a model, while
attractive in itself and clearly working for the US, would
not be appropriate for the European scene.
I wanted to ensure that risk assessment
and risk management would be separated. Such an approach
would be in line with the provisions of the Treaty, which
entrusted management, and legislation, to the Commission,
Parliament and Council.
Indeed the Codex Alimentarius also
envisages the separation of risk assessment and risk
That is the approach the Commission
adopted and it is set out unambiguously in our White
By establishing the Food Authority, our
aim is to put in place the best system of scientific
advice, based on the principles of excellence, transparency
and independence. We want to ensure that the risk
assessments carried out by the Authority are assisted by
the most up-to-date intelligence gathering systems. We
cannot do this at present. Our present system is
handicapped by a lack of capacity and has struggled to cope
with an ever-increasing work load.
In the Authority, I envisage the
pro-active capacity to gather and access state-of-the-art
data on, for example, epidemiological information,
prevalence figures and exposure data.
I also envisage the Authority developing
extensive scientific networks with centres of excellence in
the Member States and farther afield to ensure that it is
accessing the best information that exists. The capacity to
leverage research on food safety issues will, in addition,
be an important function for the Authority.
At the core of the new Authority we will
have scientific advice. This will involve "transferring"
the work done at present by a majority of our scientific
committees. In particular, the work of the scientific
committees for food, animal nutrition, veterinary-public
health, plants, animal health and welfare will be so
transferred. Similarly, the tasks of the scientific
steering committee will be transferred. However, we are
planning a significant "re-vamp" of the structures of the
transferred committees to ensure that they are focused and
In becoming the authoritative scientific
reference in the Community, the Authority must draw
together and build upon national food agencies and similar
bodies in the Member States. I envisage this being done
through a consultative committee comprised of senior
personnel from such agencies and bodies. This approach will
mitigate against competing science, enhance consumer
confidence and facilitate the operation of the single
Among the other value-added functions of
the Authority, I see a strong role for it in the area of
risk communication. Letting consumers know in easily
accessible language about risk. Putting the risks in
Communicating about nutrition in the
context of food safety. But clearly not straying into the
public health dimension of nutrition.
We also see the Authority operating the
rapid alert system and assisting in any crisis situation in
the future. However, I do not see the Authority taking
management decisions in relation to the rapid alert system
or taking management decisions in crises situations. This
would be left to the Commission, and the other institutions
as appropriate, in line with the separation of
responsibility for risk assessment and risk management,
about which I have already spoken.
I am particularly heartened by the
positive reactions we have received so far from the
Parliament to our plans. I take this opportunity to thank
those MEPs present here today who have contributed, in
their respective committees in the Parliament, to this very
rich, and sometimes, challenging debate.
I am very much looking forward to the
final opinion of the Parliament on the White Paper and, in
particular, on the proposal to set up a European Food
At the beginning of November, the
Commission will present the legislative proposal on the
creation of the European Food Authority. I can assure you
that we will take into account, to the greatest extent
possible, the forthcoming opinion of the Parliament on this
matter which, I understand, will be adopted in the second
plenary session towards the end of October.
Finally, may I say that the question of
the legal basis for our proposal on the Food Authority is a
matter which, I know, is of importance to the Parliament. I
envisage that our proposal will be based on Articles 95 and
152 of the Treaty. This will involve co-decision, so that
the Parliament can have the maximum input to the debate on
the legislative text. I look forward to constructive
collaboration with Parliament in speedy adoption of this
Thank you for you attention and I look
forward to a lively exchange of views.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"