Ladies and Gentlemen, friends,
Thank - grazie mille - you for having me here today. I am glad to join you today at this event, celebrating high quality journalism in food safety together.
I stopped counting how many shows on TV, how many books, how many articles are written about food.
Chefs and people leading in food discussions are biggest stars these days! Just look at the photos here.
People like Jamie Oliver and Petrini influence the developments in taste and food culture and are the real ambassadors for high quality food.
I am therefore extremely happy to be invited here and provide my input - even if it is a tiny one and i am no celebrity - on the subject of food safety.
Especially because as European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, I am proud to say that in the EU we have a food safety system that guarantees a high level of protection for consumers, both in Europe and globally.
The quality of European food products is among the highest in the world and we should all be proud of this.
But before going into that in more detail, let me touch on what we are celebrating here today: journalism.
Let me be honest, sometimes I think we live in a strange world these days. The internet and new communication tools mean that citizens have any information they want at their fingertips. Thinking back on my childhood, I can hardly believe the speed at which news spreads these days.
And not only does it spread fast, it spreads far. It has never been easier to propagate news to huge audiences, even at the other side of the world.
You might be asking yourselves why I am saying this. It is because, sadly, what often happens is that "fake news" spreads both furthest and fastest. "Fake news", misinformation, lies – whatever name we give it, there is no denying that it is rife these days.
I have witnessed a number of fake news in the area of food so many times over the past years. Some of it - such as EU is regulating on the size of cucumbers - is honestly laughable. But some of it can seriously damage citizen’s trust in food system and science in general.
The first rule my father ever taught me was: do not lie. I live my life by this rule. What I am trying to underline is: that what is written in papers should always true and accurate, objective and honest. For me, this is the definition of good journalism. We might disagree on opinions, but facts should remain facts.
Misinformation has far-reaching effects: look no further than the measles outbreaks over the last few years due to the fact that people lost trust in vaccines.
So to fight misinformation your role is crucial. Citizens read you, they hear you, they watch you. I know that journalism goes through turbulent times because of social media but I still count on you to give citizens true and accurate information on food, so that they do not lose trust in the safety of their food as well.
I am sure that all of you gathered here today are equally interested in food and in quality journalism.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Back to food safety now.
One of the most ‘popular’ topic during my mandate was that of glyphosate and transparency of scientific studies. I received a citizen initiative asking me to act, calling for greater transparency in the EU risk assessment model. The initiative was supported by over 1 million European citizens.
And I acted. And I acted fast.
Indeed, last week, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on our proposal on transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain.
We heard that call, listened to the requests, and acted on them. I am happy to see that the voices of those citizens had a tangible effect on EU policy.
This shows just how much our citizens want to have access to information. Now we must all do our bit to see that they do.
One of the key changes proposed is the early disclosure of all scientific data during the risk assessment process. The agreement will ensure that there is greater transparency and independence of studies in the area of food.
It will also develop a comprehensive risk communication and strengthen governance and scientific cooperation between Member States.
Ultimately, I hope that this will boost consumer confidence and trust in the EU's food policy and in the entire food safety system.
Let me touch another topic that has been making headlines, and especially so in Italy: labelling.
I know that here in Italy you are very proud of the quality and high standards of Italian food products, and of 'Made in Italy'. As a European, so am I. We all should be as Europeans.
I hear Italian and other calls on origin labelling. The Regulation on origin indication of the primary ingredient of a food will apply from April 2020. The aim of this legislation is to prevent misleading practices (such as 'Italian-sounding foods') and ensure that consumers are fully informed as to what they eat.
It will ensure a high level of transparency and give EU citizens clear information about the origin of food on the market.
But let’s be clear about the objective: guaranteeing consumer information shouldn’t compromise the integrity of the internal market.
Of course, tightly linked with food labelling is food fraud and scandals. The journalist's work is particularly important here because you are the route through which citizens get their information on these scandals.
And as I said before, because people place a lot of trust in our food safety system, scandals tend to rouse emotions.
We have had our fair share of scandals and frauds in the past years: from fipronil, to horse meat, to the recent events with slaughterhouses in Poland.
After the fipronil incident, I called a Ministerial Conference to address food fraud and adopted measures, including updating the EU's General Plan for crisis management in the field of food and feed safety.
In parallel, we are also carrying out fact-finding missions and training Member State authorities, to strengthen preparedness. However, as recent events show, there is still much to do.
Food fraud puts at risk the trust of our citizens in food safety systems. And it hurts us all, in every Member State. So we cannot take a relaxed attitude to it – as I have said before and repeat again, this will always backfire. Food fraud, like any criminal activity, should be punished.
We are currently doing groundwork on this issue; while we do so, I count on journalists to transfer the information in the most truthful and fact-based way possible.
Of course, this most recent event also brings to light another important issue: animal welfare. No discussion on sustainable food chains and citizen involvement would be complete without it. Because again, this is an issue where emotions run high.
And we hear that. Animal welfare has been a priority under this Commission, and I am happy to say that we have made some significant steps forward.
In 2017, we established the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, with subgroups on animal transport and pig welfare. We have also opened the first EU Reference Centre for Animal Welfare, which began its work in October 2018, and adopted a Recommendation for official controls of online sales of cats and dogs, among other initiatives.
But our work in this area is far from over. I am glad when I see citizen engagement in this area, reminding us of its importance.
We must not forget: everyone is responsible when it comes to animal welfare, and we all have our part to play.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I have said, we are living in a period with increasing awareness, and a tangible shift, towards more conscious, responsible production and consumption. Our generation has a duty to support the shift towards sustainable food policies.
The EU made clear its commitment to this when we agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, which give us a clear roadmap towards a sustainable future, and targets to measure our progress.
These goals have now been mainstreamed into all EU policy areas, and the recent 'Sustainable Development in the EU 2018' report shows that we are making good progress.
Take for example SDG 12.3, our global aim to "halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains".
When you think about the fact that across Europe, 88 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, amounting to 143 billion EUR – who can ignore those figures? Can you imagine how many full - but at the same time invisible - trash bins it represents?
To achieve our SDG aim, we need concerted action at all levels, to mobilise change and rethink how we produce, market, distribute and consume food. And I count on you too, to raise awareness of the importance of this issue across all sectors.
I am proud to say that we have done much in this area.
In May 2018, the Commission adopted revised EU waste legislation, with specific measures to prevent and reduce food waste across all stages of the supply chain. Member States must now prepare and publish food waste prevention programmes, and monitor and report on food waste levels at all stages of the food supply chain.
To contribute to this, we are currently in the process of preparing a common EU measurement methodology, which will generate trustworthy data on food waste levels in the EU. We foresee the first reporting in March 2022.
Another important step was the creation of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, which I launched in 2016. With the help of the Platform, we have developed guidelines on food donation. And we are working on improving date marking to reduce food losses on that end.
These changes support the shift towards a new mentality, to prevent and reduce food loss and waste. And it goes without saying that each and every person has their part to play in this.
Of course, as a medical doctor and the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, I cannot go without mentioning the importance of healthy food. We cannot underestimate the role of diet in comprehensive food policies.
According to statistics, 52% of the adult population is now overweight or obese. And the latest data from the WHO shows that the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe are in fact in the southern European countries, at around 20%. This rise in childhood obesity worries me in particular, because it will affect the health of children for the remainder of their lives. I am particularly shocked with aggressive marketing targeted at children: sweets that are displayed at the cash desk at the level of children’s eyes, the sweets and sugary drinks in vending machines in schools. The latter is easy to change: all you need is some political will.
The change in attitudes and behavior is never easy to achieve, It takes time and requires a complete overhaul and cross-cutting, multinational strategies.
Several initiatives are underway with regards to this. Firstly, the EU Framework for National Initiatives on Selected Nutrients promotes healthier diets. There is also a new Commission study on the nutritional quality of our food in supermarkets, to support food reformulation initiatives.
And finally, we are supporting Member States in their public procurement strategies to deliver healthy food to children, and announced a Directive last year to protect children from inappropriate advertising and marketing.
Needless to say, promoting healthy diets is a key step in moving towards a sustainable food system across the EU.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me repeat once again what my father taught me: do not lie. And my second message: trust in science.
Our citizens deserve to know that the information they receive on food, which touches their lives literally every day, is based on true and sound scientific evidence.
We owe it to them.
So I commend today's event for celebrating and rewarding exactly that – high quality journalism, which maintains objectivity, presenting the facts, and allowing readers to interpret them themselves.
Because that is the basis of good journalism: objectivity, honesty and transparency. Obbiettività, onestà e trasparenza.
Signore e signori, vi ringrazio di cuore per la vostra attenzione, e vi auguro una buona continuazione del festival!
Grazie. Thank you.