Speech by David
Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection, Food quality - Informal Agriculture Council
meeting in Sweden, Östersund, 10
th April 2001
Margareta and colleagues
I would like again to thank the
Presidency for the opportunity this informal meeting
affords us to discuss this important topic.
The three key issues highlighted –
"Safe, Sustainable and Ethical" – must be central to our
whole approach to the food chain, whether in the primary
production sector, the food processing sector, the
distribution chain, or even at the final preparation and
Many of these issues were discussed at
the Presidency conference held in Uppsala in mid-March. I
would like to congratulate Margareta for taking up the
theme for our meeting today and confronting us all with the
challenges for the future.
Colleagues will be aware that Franz and
I have launched a Union-wide debate on food quality, safety
and production. The themes chosen by the Presidency mirror
very many of the issues that have already arisen since we
launched our initiative at the beginning of March.
Many of the concerns of our fellow
citizens arise because we have had a number of high profile
food safety crises over recent years. The BSE crisis
highlighted, in particular, that food safety issues
transcend borders and need Community-wide public health
Indeed the current Foot and Mouth
Disease crisis, even though it is not a public health
issue, again brings into sharp relief the need for
co-ordinated and concerted action to address the animal
health and the economic issues involved.
Every single citizen has a part to play
in the drive towards higher food safety standards, better
production methods, thereby ensuring higher quality
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
It is for that very reason that Franz
and I have launched our debate. We need to develop common
understandings of the issues that people have concerns
about and common understandings of how policy responses can
We must engage in stimulating the debate
and leading the debate. Gathering key players together
throughout the Community and teasing out the real issues as
opposed to more populist impressions about what the real
issues might be.
The Presidency Working Paper rightly
points to some of the pertinent issues.
In the primary production sector you
identify the many faces of European agriculture. Sometimes
in the welter of criticism that can be directed towards the
sector, the impression is given, erroneously, that we have
a static, monolithic primary production sector. Nothing
could be further from the truth. We should be justifiably
proud to have the richest and most varied agriculture
systems in the world. We should applaud that and seek to
support it in the most appropriate ways.
And yet we must not shy away from
critical and constructive approaches to reviewing aspects
of our agricultural model that are sources of concern. That
is our collective responsibility and duty.
But we must come to that task without
baggage and with inclusion. We must not rush to hasty
judgments withour evaluating all of the issues and
We have an agricultural system that has
developed over many years and in the light of a variety of
forces at local, regional and global levels. It would,
metaphorically speaking, be entirely inappropriate to throw
the baby out with the bath water on the altar of ad hoc
Clearly in a crisis situation, people
will make all sorts of claims and make simplistic
suggestions for changing policies on what are often the
most complicated areas. The issue of vaccinations against
foot and mouth disease is just one topical example.
Others are suggesting complete bans on
animal transport. Certainly this is an area that we have to
look at from the points of view of animal welfare, meat
quality and the spreading of disease. That is undeniable,
but we must also have a sense of proportion in how we
approach these matters. Sustainable agriculture is
fundamental to the European economy as a whole and to the
individual economies of our Member States. Put another way,
if a problem emerged with the safety of motor cars, we
would not call for a ban on motor transport. Rather we
would look for pragmatic safety solutions. And we must
adopt a similar attitude in respect of agriculture
These are the kinds of issues that we
wist to reflect upon during our food quality debate.
We kicked it off by way of a high level
round table with leading food producers, retailers,
consumer experts and scientists. We now intend to follow
this up with similar round tables in the Member States. We
already have two such events programmed for Berlin on June
th and for Paris on July 11
th. I look forward to these and others in
bringing our debate forward towards shaping common policies
for the future.
We will also reach out to our citizens
directly in an internet-chat on June 6
th next, focused specifically on food quality
and production issues.
There are two other issues that I would
like to draw out in this whole debate. One concerns the
relationships between price and quality. This is a key
consumer issue. The other relates to how consumer interests
and preferences are communicated back up the production
chain, ultimately to the farmer.
The issues involved here are complex and
multi-faceted. I suspect that they have never been
adequately teased out in public policy terms; so we are
charting unexplored territory. That makes our journey all
the more exciting and potentially rewarding.
Allow me to say a final word about food
safety and, in particular, about the draft regulation for a
general food law and the establishment of the European Food
Authority. In doing so, let me pay tribute to the sterling
work being carried out by the Presidency in chairing the
Friends of the Presidency Group working on this matter.
Great progress is being made and I am pleased that the
Presidency has scheduled even more meetings of the Group to
accelerate progress. I am increasingly optimistic that the
Council will be able to reach political agreement on this
vital piece of legislation before the end of June. This is
absolutely critical if we are all to live up to my own
desire and that of the Heads of State and Government to
have the Food Authority up and running from early next
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"