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Major White Paper initiatives
Major White Paper initiatives
1. A European Food Authority
The White Paper envisages the establishment of an European Food Authority based on the principles of the highest levels of independence, of scientific excellence and of transparency in its operations. Therefore the Authority must be guided by the best science, be independent of industrial and political interests, be open to rigorous public scrutiny, be scientifically authoritative and work closely with national scientific bodies.
The White Paper clearly identifies many weaknesses in the present system which it envisages would be addressed in the context of establishing a European Food Authority. Among the weaknesses identified are lack of scientific support for the system of scientific advice, inadequacies in monitoring and surveillance on food safety issues, gaps in the rapid alert system and lack of coordination of scientific cooperation and analytical support.
The tasks of the Authority will essentially concentrate on risk assessment and risk communication. Risk management, including legislation and control, should remain the responsibility of the European institutions which are accountable to the European public. However, future extension of the competencies of the Authority should not be discounted in the light of experience of the Authority's operation, confidence gained, and the possible need to change the Treaty.
It is envisaged that the tasks of the Authority will comprise:
Establishment of risk assessments through scientific advice. The scope of issues will include all matters having a direct or indirect impact on consumer health and safety arising from the consumption of food. Thus it will cover primary food production (agricultural and veterinary aspects), industrial processes, storage, distribution and retailing. Its remit will encompass both risk and nutritional issues. The Authority will also cover animal health and welfare issues, and will take into consideration risk assessments in other areas, notably the environmental and chemical sectors where these overlap with risk assessment in relation to food. The work currently carried out by the five Scientific Committees concerned with food safety will be a core part of the new Authority. However, the current system of the organisation of the EU's Scientific Committees will be reviewed in the light of decisions taken about the structure of the Authority after consultations and detailed feasibility studies.
Information gathering and analysis. There is a pressing need to identify and use the information currently available throughout both the Community and world-wide on food safety issues. The Authority will be expected to take a proactive role in developing and operating food safety monitoring and surveillance programmes. It will need to establish a network of contacts with similar agencies, laboratories and consumer groups across the European Union and in third countries.
Communication. The Authority will need to make special provision for informing all interested parties of its findings, not only in respect of the scientific opinions, but also in relation to the results of its monitoring and surveillance programmes. The Authority must become the automatic first port of call when scientific information on food safety and nutritional issues is sought or problems have been identified. A highly visible Authority with strong proactive presence on food safety matters will be a key element in restoring and maintaining confidence among European consumers.
Rapid alert. The White Paper foresees that the Authority would operate the rapid alert system. The rapid alert system will be significantly strengthened as part of this process and will include rapid alert for animal feed problems.
The White Paper is not prescriptive about all of the details concerning a Food Authority at the European level, and the Commission, therefore, has not yet proposed concrete resource figures for the Authority. However, it is clear that the efficacy of the Authority will ultimately depend on the adequacy, in terms of both size and quality, of the human, financial and physical resources allocated. It is also implicit that the location of the Authority should allow it to interact easily with all players in the risk analysis process.
It is envisaged that the Authority should be in place by 2002 once the necessary legislation has been enacted. Before finalising its proposals the European Commission is inviting all interested parties to give their views on the European Food Authority by the end of April. A definitive legislative proposal would then be brought forward by the Commission in September of this year.
2. Food safety legislation
The White Paper proposes an action plan with a wide range of measures to improve and bring coherence to the Community's legislation covering all aspects of food products from "farm to table". It sets out over 80 separate actions that are envisaged over the period ahead and intends to close identified loopholes in current legislation. The new legal framework will cover animal feed, animal health and welfare, hygiene, contaminants and residues, novel food, additives, flavourings, packaging and irradiation. It will include a proposal on General Food Law which will embody the principles of food safety such as:
responsibility of feed manufacturers, farmers and food operators;
traceability of feed, food and its ingredients;
proper risk analysis through a) risk assessment (scientific advice and information analysis), b) risk management (regulation and control) and c) risk communication; and
the application of the precautionary principle if appropriate.
3. Control of implementation of legislation
A comprehensive piece of legislation is proposed in order to recast the different control requirements. This will take into account the general principle that all parts of the food production chain must be subject to official controls. There is a clear need for a Community framework of national control systems, which will improve the quality of controls at Community level, and consequently raise food safety standards across the European Union. The operation of such control systems would remain a national responsibility. This Community framework would have three core elements:
Operational criteria set up at Community level.
Community control guidelines.
Enhanced administrative cooperation in the development and operation of control.
Development of this overall Community framework for national control systems would clearly be a task for the Commission and the Member States working together. The experience of the EU's Food and Veterinary Office (Dublin), which exercises the control functions at Community level, will be an essential element in its development.
4. Consumer information
If consumers are to be satisfied that the action proposed in the White Paper is leading to a genuine improvement in food safety standards, they must be kept well informed. The Commission, together with the new European Food Authority, will promote a dialogue with consumers to encourage their involvement in the new Food Safety policy. At the same time, consumers need to be kept better informed of emerging food safety concerns, and of risks to certain groups from particular foods. Proposals on the labelling of foods, building on existing rules, will be brought forward.
5. International dimension
The Community is the world's largest importer/exporter of food products. The actions proposed in the White Paper will need to be effectively presented and explained to our trading partners. An active role for the Community in international bodies will be an important element in explaining European developments in food safety.
The success of the measures proposed in this White Paper is intrinsically linked to the support of the European Parliament and the Council. Their implementation will depend on the commitment of the Member States. This White Paper also calls for strong involvement of the operators, who bear the prime responsibility for the daily application of the requirements for food safety.
Greater transparency at all levels of Food Safety policy is the thread running through the whole White Paper and will contribute fundamentally to enhancing consumer confidence in EU Food Safety policy.
Since public awareness of food safety issues has been raised recently through the dioxin and other food scares, it was considered that the Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection should have overall responsibility for all elements of the food chain. Accordingly, the Commission has now decided to transfer all food safety matters to Commissioner Byrne. The Commission also affirmed that Commissioner Liikanen will be fully associated with proposals made in the domain of food legislation having regard to his enterprise and competitiveness responsibilities.