by David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and
Consumer Protection to the High Level Round Table on Food
Quality, Brussels 5
th March 2001
Firstly, may I welcome you here to the
European Commission and thank you for agreeing to
participate in this High Level Round Table on Food
Franz and I have launched this
initiative as we believe that there is increasing consumer
concern about food quality issues. Of course these concerns
arise in part from the series of food safety crises we have
But as consumers become increasingly
sophisticated they are demanding higher standards and are
fundamentally asking if their real or perceived needs are
In the decades after the Second World
War food policy was determined by the need to increase
output and efficiency in order to achieve food
Now, though, general affluence and
surplus in our food supply has resulted in a gradual change
in public policy focus away from efficiency and
productivity towards quality and diversity in agri-food
Indeed 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.
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.
We have identified some of the issues
that we are concerned about. What exactly is quality? How
do we define it? Does it mean different things to different
people? What is the impact of geography on people’s
perceptions of quality?
Even if we can’t get a uniform
definition of quality, we must strive to build a consensus
around key ingredients of quality.
And how does the consumer fit into all
of this. Modern production methods must put the consumer
I believe that consumers are
increasingly concerned that their needs are not being met.
Are their interests being heard in the boardrooms of
multinational food producing companies? Are these companies
more focused on short terms pressures of the stock market
and the longer-term issues of brand positioning? What is
the trade off between the development of the modern-day
global brands and food quality?
And then there is the thorny question of
quality versus price. Will people pay more for higher
quality products? How much more? What guarantees can they
have that they are really getting a higher quality product?
Do modern production methods militate against tasty and
wholesome food produce?
These kinds of issues are exercising the
minds of consumers throughout the European Union. I am sure
too that they cannot have escaped the notice of food
producers and distributors.
These issues go to the very heart of why
Franz and I have launched this initiative. We have
identified a serious issue and we are seeking the means to
address it with the collaboration of consumers and al
stakeholders in the food production chain.
Some of these questions are simple and
straightforward. But I expect that the answers will be
complex, particularly given the complexity of the modern
food chain and the high expectations of the modern
From today’s Round Table, I expect that
we might be able to sketch out these issues in more detail
and take decisions on how to bring this issue
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"