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Health and Consumer Protection

Speeches Commissioner Byrne

Opening Remarks 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 Quality.

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 had.

But as consumers become increasingly sophisticated they are demanding higher standards and are fundamentally asking if their real or perceived needs are being met.

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 security.

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 production.

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 first.

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 consumer.

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 forward.


Speeches Commissioner Byrne



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