UNDER EMBARGO until March 15, 17.00 hours
David BYRNE, European Commissioner for Health and
Consumer Protection, on the occasion of the European
Consumer Day March 15, 2001.
in Europe" Conference, Brussels, March 15, 2001
The theme of this year’s European
Consumer Day "Food Quality", is one that has preoccupied
my colleague Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler and
myself for some time now. We have come to the conclusion
food safety is an intrinsic part of food
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 grand-parents.
It is important that Europe allows all
the richness and diversity of foods to be preserved
and developed. 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 Member
States should decide on how best to achieve this at local
level. We need flexible rules for products produced and
consumed locally. In this way, local markets and
traditions will be preserved. Europe is in fact
encouraging local markets!
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 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. I have taken the initiative,
together with my colleague responsible for agriculture,
Commissioner Franz Fischler, to start a
debate on food quality, safety and production. We
have just organised a first round table on the issue. We
are planning to hold a stakeholders conference to examine
the issues involved in more detail and would welcome all
inputs into this reflection process.
This is the way I would like to see us
move forward in Europe -
towards a more sustainable way of producing and
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
One that is uncompromising on safety. One which
would give consumers
the 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. This is what I believe the
consumer has a right to expect.
While the European food supply is
amongst the safest in the World, we can always do more.
We need to take an
integrated approach to all food safety matters. An
integrated approach involves looking at food production
from the way crops are grown in the field, to the health
and welfare of animals and the way that food products are
prepared and packaged. This also means checks that reach
all the way through the food chain right to the point
where food reaches the consumer – and back again -
In my White Paper on Food Safety,
adopted by the Commission last year, an Action Plan was
put forward. These actions operate from the kind of
comprehensive, integrated approach I have been speaking
of. In the context of the White Paper Action Plan, the
integrated approach applies specifically to food safety.
Food safety is our over-riding concern and a priority
for the Commission.
However, no matter how great our fears
or how frequently a crisis emerges,
we must not fall into the trap of dealing with food
safety as a series of one-off actions. Of course,
each and every crisis must be confronted and dealt with
to the best of our ability.
My Directorate-General for Health and
Consumer Protection and our scientific advisers are
pulling out all the stops to deal with the evolving BSE
situation. As you know, we have initiated a series of
highly precautionary measures in the last weeks, to
control and halt the spread of BSE, together with the
Member State authorities. I will also shortly be
proposing a strategy in combating major food-borne risks
such as listeria.
My heart goes out to all those whose
lives have been overturned in one way or another by these
terrible food crises. You should be assured that we will
leave no stone unturned in our efforts to work together
with the Member States and all concerned to deal with
Our vigilance must continue to operate at a high
level, across the whole food chain, even in the midst
of a crisis.
The drive towards overcoming the
weaknesses of the past, placing food safety firmly at the
top of the EU agenda, is most evident in our Proposal
European Food Authority and laying down procedures
in matters of food.
This proposal is the cornerstone of our new food
I expect the European Food Authority
to be up and running in the course of the next year. The
European Food Authority will provide an authoritative
body of expertise to the European Food Safety System. It
will become the foremost scientific body of expertise in
the world on food safety. The European Food Authority
will also follow an integrated approach to food safety by
having a scientific overview on all matters directly or
indirectly affecting the safety of the food supply – from
farm to fork.
Let me finally address your specific
consumers. Better legislation, the future European
Food Authority and improved inspections from regulators
will not, by themselves, ensure safe and nutritious food
on Europe’s tables. Consumers need to be able to
understand labels, to choose foods from the shelves in an
informed way and to handle food properly once they take
it home. Depending on how consumers shop, store and
prepare food at home, its quality and safety will be
preserved or will deteriorate, as a number of potentially
dangerous food handling errors can occur.
Consumers themselves are the final critical link in
the prevention of food borne risks. When they are in
a position to make informed choices, they become key
actors in any food quality policy. This is where
education programs and campaigns come into their own –
and events such as those now taking place all over Europe
to mark this occasion.
It was very appropriate to select
"Food quality" as a theme for this year’s European
Consumer Day and I am grateful to have been given this
opportunity to address you on this subject.
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"