Food Law News - EU - 2000

EP Daily Notebook, 4 October 2000

CONTAMINANTS - Food safety, animal feed and inspections

Opening this morning's debate, Marit PAULSEN (ELDR, S) speaking for the Environment Committee welcomed two Commission proposals to improve food safety across the EU, one by setting stricter standards for animal feed and another to introduce on-the-spot checks on such feedstuffs in the Member States. The proposals are part of the Commission's policy to improve food safety in the wake of the dioxin crisis. As Mrs Paulsen explained, the new rules would cover all kinds of feedingstuffs, not just for farm animals but for pets as well. Present derogations allowing Member States a certain amount of leeway in implementing animal feed legislation would be removed, with a view to imposing strict EU-wide standards. The legislation covers "undesirable" substances such as toxins, cadmium, mercury and lead and the Environment Committee is tabling amendments designed to impose stricter limits on such substances. The Commission's proposal also introduces a new concept called "action threshold" whereby the Member States would be able to act quickly in the event of a perceived crisis, if there was a feeling that animal feed containing substances below the fixed level could in fact cause a danger to health. The other proposal under discussion, and also supported by the Environment Committee, concerns the right of inspectors to carry out unannounced checks in the Member States.

In the debate, there was wide-spread support across the political spectrum and from speakers from other committees in favour of the stricter legislation designed to improve food safety. Specific points were raised, with FriedrichWilhelm GRAEFE zu BARINGDORF (Greens/EFA, D) arguing that any compounds prohibited from use in human food should also be banned from animal food. He pointed out that even setting a maximum limit on undesirable foodstuffs meant that they would always be something of a potential threat in the products. Danielle AUROI (Greens/EFA, F), on the other hand, was concerned about diluted foodstuffs or the mixing of substances potentially harmful which she felt should be banned, whereas Christa KLASS (D) speaking for the EPP, although supporting a European-wide approach, underlined the importance of ensuring that what emerged was in fact feasible in the sense that it could be applied in all the Member States. In supporting the new approach Dagmar ROTHBEHRENDT (PES, D) made a special plea for a dioxin register as a means of identifying contaminated areas quickly. Frédérique RIES (ELDR, B) underlined the need to reassure consumers and supported the prohibition of dilution. Paul LANNOYE (Greens/EFA, B) on the other hand, pointed to the long-term effect of potentially harmful substances, even when used with strict controls. A dissenting note was struck by Nicole THOMASMAURO (UEN, F) however, who, while supporting the general idea of improving food safety and controls in this area, felt that the Commission's approach only showed an obsession with harmonisation and would in fact lead to more petty bureaucracy from Brussels. The Member States were perfectly capable of introducing national measures to control the risk, she felt.

Urging a common sense approach Phillip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands) said that while a substance proven to be unsafe should be removed, it was also important to ensure that decisions were based on a firm scientific base and that any response was proportionate to the perceived threat. He also raised the question of ensuring that the EU's approach could be fully justified to the WTO and, indeed, that there was a danger of restrictive legislation resulting in activities being removed from the EU to neighbouring states. Mikko PESÄLÄ (ELDR, FIN) took issue with an amendment seeking to bring drinking water used by animals under the scope of the directive and indeed in his reply Commissioner David BYRNE too felt that this was not possible. Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) underlined the importance of the legislation by plugging a gap in existing measures.

Confirming this in his reply, Commissioner Byrne said that the Commission's response was designed to address shortcomings revealed by the dioxin crisis and also to enable the Member States to act swiftly in the case of an emergency through the new "action threshold" approach. He did for example say that it should be possible to find a way for dealing with the question of re-exports or returning products not meeting the new standards. He also promised to review the rules relating to cadmium and mercury based on proper scientific risk assessment.

Undesirable substances in animal feed

Vote : Wednesday 4 October 2000 (485 for; 21 against; 23 abstentions)

In adopting amendments on the Commission proposal for a directive on undesirable substances and products of any kind intended for animal nutrition, Parliament wishes to lay down even clearer and more precise rules than those proposed by the Commission. It wants to establish a proactive system requiring priority to be given to food safety through coordinated measures at all stages in the feed chain. Parliament says the directive must therefore also cover the primary stage, as some two thirds of all feed given to animals is produced and used at this stage. The use of water in feed mixtures is also highlighted, with Parliament voting for the same rules to apply to the quality of water as to that of other feed products. For this purpose water needs to be expressly mentioned in the definition of feedingstuffs.

Parliament wants to prevent the re-export of products intended for animal nutrition which under EU standards are deemed to contain harmful levels of undesirable products, on the grounds that this is unethical. It says a ban on re-exports would probably encourage the companies concerned to take pre-emptive action by monitoring product quality and demanding higher standards from their suppliers.

Crucial amendments were also adopted on stricter limit values for mercury and cadmium, toxic substances which accumulate in food chains. It was argued that the only way to reduce contamination at the end of the food chain is to exclude any products which are too highly contaminated at the start. Dioxins and PCBs are further substances which accumulate in organisms and are toxic even at very low doses. Hence, in the wake of recent food crises, Parliament felt it was unthinkable to adopt a directive which did not lay down limit values for these two groups of substances.

Official inspections of animal feed

Vote: Wednesday 4 October 2000 (518 for; 6 against; 7 abstentions)

In approving this proposal, Parliament adopted various amendments, including one giving experts from the Commission and Member States permission to carry out on-the-spot inspections with the cooperation of the national authorities, which would be required to give them full assistance in carrying out their duties. The Commission or another competent EU body would be able to decide on and carry out such inspections after informing the Member State concerned but without giving prior notice to the subject of the inspections.

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