Please also read here my op-ed for the World Health Day presenting my priorities.
the purpose of this letter is to share with you my thoughts on the many challenges in the areas that go under the comprehensive definition of "food chain" and for which I am primarily responsible in the European Commission. This part of my portfolio covers not only food and feed safety concerns but more generally matters linked to the way food is produced, traded and presented, along with the needs to counter deceptive and fraudulent practices along the chain and to protect the health of animals and plants, animal welfare, zootechnics and plant reproductive material. It is a vast and complex area, of capital importance for the European citizens and the European economy.
Let me briefly list what I see as the main priorities for the food chain in the coming years which I consider fit with the focus of the Political Guidelines of the new Commission.
First and foremost, it will be my concern to ensure that the Commission continues to ensure, together with the Member States, the readiness of the EU controls system as a whole in case of crisis that might erupt along the food chain. Be it a food safety issue, a risk for animal or plant health, or a widespread and particularly damaging, fraudulent practice, the key of successful crisis management at EU level lays in the deployment of timing and efficient cooperation among all those concerned. Different initiatives will be prioritised to ensure that the tools we use daily to stay ready and vigilant enable both the Commission and the Member States to communicate and cooperate as efficiently as possible in cases of crisis. I see a particular need to reinforce our tools in the field of plant health, where the increasing level of global trade combined with the risks arising from climate change expose our territory to the attack of new pathogens which we need to address in a quicker and more efficient way. I will be counting on your continued support in this.
President Juncker himself has indicated the way forward in one of the most discussed files under my responsibility, the review of GMO authorisation process to better reflect the views of European citizens and Member States' national contexts, while maintaining a strong European risk management system based on science. With the adoption of Directive (EU) 2015/412 in March we succeeded in finding a solution to
the long debated reform of the GMO authorisations for cultivation; our efforts will go in the coming months in discussing with the Member States and the European Parliament the Commission legislative proposal adopted on 22 April, which aims at conferring upon the Member States more freedom to restrict or prohibit the use of EU-authorised GMOs in food or feed on their territory, for reasons others than risk on health and the environment.
Finding the right balance among varied interests (first of all public health) while staying soundly based on science is also my goal in relation to another important issue, the definition in a regulatory context of what are endocrine disrupting substances. Work is well underway with the objective of finishing a complex impact assessment by the end of 2016, and I am determined to ensure full transparency to the process and
a comprehensive consultation of all stakeholders. A public consultation has been carried out, roundtable meetings with stakeholders, Member States, and members of the European Parliament are taking place, and a conference will be held in Brussels on 1 June 2015. This important work will be part of broader discussions on a more sustainable use of plant protection products, and will progress alongside the review of the current pesticides legislation, where my objective is to ensure the fitness for purpose of the legal framework in place, and the overall consistency and accountability of our policies.
Reliable science and strong coordination across policies are key to urgently address what has become a real emergency: antimicrobial resistance. As a doctor and Commissioner responsible for both food and health I am convinced of the need for an holistic approach and for coordinated efforts across all sectors; the fight against AMR will not succeed without the efforts and the commitment of the Members States, and of all involved stakeholders, including the general public. To complement the recent regulatory initiatives to review the law on veterinary medicines and medicated feed, I intend to review the existing Action Plan (an evaluation of which will be carried out this year) to make it more ambitious and better fit to the complex and multifaceted challenge ahead.
As trade in food chain products becomes more and more globalized, the EU needs a strategic approach to the deployment of control and enforcement tools to ensure that agri-food chain products arriving from third countries comply with the rules that apply to European products, and that European producers are not confronted with undue pressure and unfair competition by non-compliant goods arriving from third countries. EU safety, consumer protection, plant and animal health, animal welfare, come at a cost for European business and consumers. We cannot afford a situation whereby cheaper non-compliant products from third countries undermine our level of protection and the trust of consumers and law-abiding business in the functioning
of the EU Single Market.
Building on the existing acquis in this area and on the strengthened rules on official controls that are being negotiated at the moment with the co-legislators, I intend to engage the Member States in a discussion on
the core features of such strategic approach as soon as the new official controls regulation is adopted.
As you are aware we are proud to have in Europe a set of high level requirements for the welfare of animals, which I would like to see fully enforced across the EU. More can be done to enforce those standards, and to promote them so as to ripe the added value that they afford to EU animal products on international markets. Animal welfare is one of my priorities for the food chain portfolio and I intend to elicit in the course of my mandate a broad debate on how best to pursue our animal welfare objectives.
I do believe that for the EU agri-food chain to function in a manner that ensures the protection of health and
of businesses' and consumers' interests it is essential to have a modern and fit for purpose legal framework. Some key parts of the EU extensive legal framework for the agri-food chain have been reviewed intensely
in recent years and negotiations are still ongoing on certain important proposals put forward by
the Commission (official controls, animal health, plant health, zootechnics, novel food and medicated feed). But our effort to constantly improve the fitness for purpose of EU regulations should not relent.
A major initiative is ongoing to proceed with a Fitness Check of one of the founding acts of our food chain policy, Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 (the "General Food Law"). The exercise should be seen as a golden opportunity to ensure that this visionary act which has marked the start of the "farm to fork" approach to regulation and enforcement of food chain law is assessed and reviewed against the needs of a modern food supply chain. I also intend to consider whether adjustments might be needed to the current rules governing
the use of health claims, in particular as regards nutrient profiles and the use of health claims on the so-called botanicals.
In the same spirit I intend to address the issue of link between high intakes of transfatty acids and increased risks of heart disease (the leading cause of death in Europe).
On plant reproductive material, following the Commission decision to withdraw its 2013 proposal, I would welcome your views on whether there is still the need to modernise the existing legal framework (partly dating back to the 60s) and if so on how best to proceed in order to address that need and the concerns expressed,
in particular by NGOs, in relation to the 2013 proposal.
I welcome the visibility that EXPO 2015 will give to another issue that I consider a priority: the fight against food waste and food losses. Further to the Commission’s decision to withdraw the proposal on circular economy package to replace it with a new more ambitious proposal by the end of 2015, we are currently reflecting on how best this new proposal can promote circular economy through actions that prevent food waste and means that optimise the use of resources use in the food/feed chain.
I have highlighted above those actions and initiatives in my area of responsibility for the food chain where
I consider that our collective efforts should be focused. The Juncker Commission is committed to seek genuine EU added value in the initiatives it pursues, and I do believe that the actions I have outlined above do pass that test.
I would very much welcome your views on the content of this letter and more generally on how we can together make the EU agri-food chain a place which is safe for consumers and professionals, and where business can prosper.