But Maria del Pilar AYUSO GONZALEZ (EPP-ED, E), who is drafting an opinion on the Commission's White Paper on food safety, endorsed this week by the Feira European Council, warned that the creation of the food authority must not simply be an exercise in window dressing.
MEPs and delegates from the Council of Europe's Agriculture Committee insisted on the rigorous enforcement of health standards. The BSE crisis was caused because rules had been broken and the authorities must find the political will needed to ensure that proper inspections and checks are carried out.
They stressed that the highest standards of food hygiene and safety must be applied uniformly, from the farmyard to the dinner table, eliminating any weak links in the food chain, not just within the EU but across the whole of Europe. A German Council of Europe representative pointed out that calves are exported from EU Member States to countries where they can be fattened with cheaper feed, which might be contaminated, and then reimported into the EU, making controls very difficult. The Council of Europe, many of whose member states are candidates for EU membership and must be ready to meet EU food standards on accession, is looking to the EU to take the lead in food safety.
The new food authority, for which draft legislation is expected from the Commission by September this year, must operate autonomously but should not, it was agreed, ape the US Food and Drugs Administration, which has a legislative function.
The EFA's crucial task of risk analysis must be carried out by the best scientists, acting independently. Their task must be separated from the tasks of risk management (including the operation of an early warning system) and the communication of risk to the public. Consumers must be informed of health risks by professional communicators, in layman's language.
According to a recent poll, 50 per cent of European consumers believe their food is not fit to eat and their shattered confidence must be restored. Farmers and the agri-foodstuffs industry had been badly hit during the recent food scares because of the panic engendered by the way in which the news of food risks was relayed to the public.
The chair of the EP's Agriculture Committee, Friedrich-Wilhelm GRAEFE zu BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, D), said food manufacturers and consumers must shoulder their share of the responsibility while Gordon ADAM (PES, UK) pointed out that much food contamination occurs in the home. Joseph DAUL (EPP-ED, F) cautioned against overburdening small farmers with excessive regulations which would only be circumvented.