Food Law News - EU - 2001

Commission Press Release (IP/01/311), 5 March 2001

QUALITY - Fischler and Byrne launch broad debate on food quality, safety and production

Today at a high level round table with leading food producers, retailers, consumer experts and scientists, Commissioners David Byrne for Health and Consumer Protection and Franz Fischler for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries launched a debate for a strategic re-thinking of food production and food policy in terms of quality, safety and cost. The Commissioners emphasised the need for shifts in attitudes of both consumers and producers if initiatives to improve the overall quality of the food on offer are to succeed. The challenge is to find ways to match consumer demands and expectations for good quality food with a corresponding food supply. Based on ideas emerging from today's round table the Commissioners suggested concrete follow up-actions, such as similar round tables in the Member States and collect suggestions for common policies or a conference with the European Parliament to consider the role of public policy vis a vis food quality and production methods.

"Consumers nowadays expect their food to be safe, wholesome, and tasty. As policy makers, we are seeking ways to push quality up the agenda in dialogue with consumers and stakeholders. We are focusing on how to develop the trend towards quality and diversity. I want to see a quality driven single market in foodstuffs," David Byrne said explaining the initiative.

"Modern production methods must put consumers first and there has been a fundamental change in the job agriculture is expected to do. Responsible agriculture must be viable yet sustainable economically, environmentally and socially. We must work more and more with nature and not against it. It is my intention to listen to society in shaping the future common agricultural policy," Franz Fischler stated.

The Round Table discussed the issues surrounding local, regional and global food production systems and their impact on relations between producers and consumers. The objective of the discussion was to identify issues requiring further investigation and debate, rather than to reach any firm conclusions at this stage. Among the issues they analysed were the driving forces behind consumer and producer behaviour in terms of price versus quality, and the increasing emphasis on ethical values such as the environment, animal health and welfare, and social responsibility.

The debate comes as food quality is increasingly a subject of concern. Consumer expectations increasingly appear mismatched with what the market is providing. Industry, consumer and agricultural sector representatives welcomed the initiative as timely and of strategic importance.

In the context of food safety, the Round Table emphasised the importance of the early establishment of an independent European Food Authority.

Based on ideas emerging from today's round table the Commissioners proposed follow up-actions.

Food quality will be the key theme of European Consumer Day on 15th March next and both Commissioners expect that consumer organisations throughout Europe will use this opportunity to promote the quality agenda.

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