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Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament,

It is a pleasure for me to be here today to discuss with you European health and food policy.  .

As a former parliamentarian, I fully appreciate the value of such meetings.

I came here to share the ideas, to listen and discuss. What I want, what I work for is for people to remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. For this we need to promote good health, prevent diseases by addressing the risk factor and protect citizens against health risks.

These are my three “Ps”: promotion, protection, prevention.

If we focus more on keeping people well, we will, in turn, reduce avoidable illness, reduce demand for healthcare, and, as such, improve the sustainability of health systems.

Investing in promoting good health across the life cycle, pro-actively monitoring people's health and preventing diseases: this is my prescription for better health; more people at work; lower healthcare costs.

Plus we need to reach out to the most vulnerable in society – including children - in our efforts to promote good health.

To succeed here, we need to work across policies –starting from discouraging smoking and  alcohol abuse; encouraging healthy nutrition and exercise; and by providing healthy living and working conditions. We together need to create the conditions that enable people to make healthy choices. For example, to make healthy food - or sports centres - easily available and affordable to all. Education, agriculture, sport, marketing, urban planning, research and other sectors must all play a part in creating healthier societies.

Let us take a brief look at some of the risk factors I mentioned.

Tobacco has a devastating effect on society and our economy.  It kills 700,000 Europeans prematurely every year. In Romania, 28% of the country's total population uses tobacco; this is above the EU average of 26%.

One major concern is the illicit trade in tobacco . Such llicit trade  endangers  citizens' health by offering access to cheaper tobacco products, which help create and sustain addiction.

It undermines our efforts to protect public health – illicit tobacco products are less likely to comply with EU law.

Plus it robs governments of billions of euros every year– which drains national budgets and feeds into crime.

The EU is at at the forefront of implementing the International Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products – we are shaping right now European implemeting laws .to introduce the first EU-wide tracking and tracing system.

This sytem will support Member States in the fight against illicit trade. I count on Romania's support to ensure that we put in place in Europe a track and trace system fit for purpose by May 2019 as stipulated in EU law.

Obesity and alcohol abuse have an equally devastating effect on health. I note with concern the growing trend of binge drinking among young people.

By the age of 15 years, 30% of Romanian boys – almost one in three - have been drunk at least once, with immediate negative health effects and risk of future addiction.

I welcome Romania's commitment to implement the European Action Plan on Youth Drinking.

We also need a stronger approach to promote nutrition and physical activity.

Obesity is increasing across the European Union. More than 1 in 3 European schoolchildren are now overweight or obese putting them at greater risk of type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular diseases later in life.

We can address this by promoting physical activity opportunities for children and young people. 

We must also ensure that healthy food products are available and affordable to all in all supermarkets, with less salt, sugar and fat. That way we give both children and adults the opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The Commission is launching a study to produce a snapshot of the nutritional quality of food products sold in our supermarkets to support current initiatives to reformulate foods to remove excess sugars, salt and fat.

In this area, Romania is an active contributor to the EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity and the Joint Action on Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Promoting healthy lifestyles and preventative measures doesn't need to be expensive – but it does need political will.

Another of my key priorities is health sector reform.

The European Commission is initiating a thematic analysis in the field of health: the State of Health in the EU.

This aims to develop expertise on performance assessments of health systems in order to build up country-specific and cross-country knowledge to help inform policies at both national and European level.

It is designed to inform and support, not to make recommendations.

It seeks to broaden, deepen and contextualise our knowledge to better support Member States in their own evidence-based policy making.

Next month we will publish country profiles for all Member States.  I invite Honourable Members to seek out the country profile for Romania which I hope you will find both informative and useful.

Let me now turn to an area which would benefit from further EU cooperation: Health Technology Assessment (HTA).

HTA is a key tool to support Member States in their efforts to keep national health systems sustainable. At the same time it facilitates patients’ access to innovative health technologies.

In September 2016 the Commission published an Inception Impact Assessment, setting out where we stand regarding current cooperation and options for possible ways forward.

The European Commission has supported EU cooperation on HTA already for more than two decades.

We now stand at the beginning of a third Joint Action on HTA but we need to already start thinking about what should happen with EU cooperation on HTA beyond 2020.

Our aim is to make a proposal for the way forward by the end of this year. I very much hope Romania will be able to support this proposal.

Let me turn to the critical issue of vaccination – in particular in relation to the ongoing measles situation in Romania which remains a matter of serious concern.

It is heart-breaking to hear of the deaths of children from diseases that are preventable by vaccination.

Romania has taken steps to counter the current situation. I am here to help and support Romani in every way I can.

 Preparations are under way for a mission to Romania involving the Commission Services, your experts and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

As regards the new Romanian law on vaccination, I must stress the importance of pursuing a balanced and proportionate approach. 

It is important to explain the benefits of vaccination on the basis of evidence and open-minded communication to increase trust and avoid provoking vaccine hesitancy.

Another of my key priorities is the fight against of antimicrobial-resistance (AMR) – a major problem here in Romania.  To combat AMR we are taking a 'one-health' approach, addressing AMR in humans, animals and the environment.

In June of this year the Commission published a second EU "One Health" Action Plan

The Plan sets out many actions to support Member States, including the recently launched Joint Action on AMR and healthcare associated infections for which Romania is a key partner.

In addition to the existing Guidelines on the prudent use of antimicrobials in the veterinary sector, the Commission has also approved EU guidelines on the prudent use of antimicrobials in human health.

I acknowledge the efforts already made by Romania to tackle AMR and the recent involvement of Romania in the network of the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption.

Still, I have to underline that a lot remains to be done to reduce the non-prudent use of antibiotics. Romania should also intensify its efforts to implement a true “one health approach” and adopt quickly a national AMR action plan in humans. I would like to encourage Romania to establish an efficient coordination structure so that all sectors- human health, agriculture and also the environment- are covered

The Commission stands ready to provide support in taking all necessary actions.

Another global challenge is to eliminate as far as possible the scandalous amount of food that goes to waste.

An estimated 88 million tonnes of food is wasted each year worth an estimated EUR 143 billion. In Romania the food waste amount is estimated at about 5 million tonnes. This situation is unaffordable, immoral and unsustainable.

Fighting food waste requires a thorough rethink of how we produce, market and consume food at each step in the food supply chain. 

It calls for concrete action on the ground by all players. We need to create integrated and effective action plans to prevent food waste. 

The Commission's Communication on the Circular Economy – published in December 2015 – calls on Member States to reduce food waste generation in line with Sustainable Development Goals.

The Commission is already undertaking a series of initiatives to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets for food waste reduction in the EU – in particular to cut by 50% both retail and consumer food waste by 2030. 

  • Finally, the Commission has established a Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste involving both Member State representatives and actors in the food chain as a forum for an exchange of best practice and to accelerate the EU's progress towards the SDG food waste reduction target.

Let me now say a few words on the possible link between pesticides and bee health.

In 2013 the Commission strictly regulated the use of a number of pesticides well known for their potential risk to bees – including in particular three belonging to the substance group “neonicotinoids”.

Our legislation provides for derogations in certain well-defined cases – “emergency authorisations”. I regret however that some Member States – Romania included – have systematically granted such derogations every year since 2014 for several neonicotinoids for uses that are prohibited at EU level.

While the Commission has so far respected these national decisions, such blanket practices cannot continue indefinitely.

We have therefore requested the European Food Safety Authority to assess the emergency authorisations granted in 2017 in the context of the situation in these Member States.

We will look very closely at this assessment in order to determine what steps to follow in future.

Let me now say a few words on animal and plant health starting with the current situation regarding African swine fever (ASF).

African swine fever is such a big challenge for the Romanian agriculture and for the entire EU pig sector that the fight against it needs to be considered as a top priority.

 

It is good to note that the two outbreaks of ASF in Satu Mare, which occurred in backyards at the end of July, were successfully controlled.

The main challenge now concerns the ASF situation in Moldova and especially in Ukraine and the continuing risk that the disease could be re-introduced into Romania via humans or wild boars.

Romania now needs to ensure an effective early warning and reaction system consisting, in particular, of:

  1. an efficient surveillance system for ASF;

  2. mobilisation of forestry management bodies and hunter communities so that proper incentives to maximise cooperation allow for sufficient surveillance and proper wild boar management, including adequate hunting and carcass disposal;

  3. sufficient awareness leading to strong biosecurity measures at farm level – in particular in backyard farms;

  4. controls at the borders preventing illegal introduction of  contaminated goods through passengers' personal consignments; and

  5. sufficient capacity for stamping-out campaigns – in particular preparation for the proper disposal of livestock carcases.

    The EU will continue to provide scientific, technical and financial support to the affected Member States, coupled with all possible efforts on international coordination and promotion of compliance with international standards.

    Chairman, Honourable Members of Parliament,

    I have addressed a number of areas of key concern and current action from the Commission's perspective.

    I would now be happy to hear the observations and opinions of Honourable Members on these and any other areas of concern you may have in the field of health, food safety and animal and plant health.

    Thank you for your attention.