Mr Verhaeghe told the assembly that the question of setting up the European Food Authority (EFA) was a "fundamental topic" and that the work of the study group had been characterised by "much collective input". The Authority needs to get off the ground as quickly as possible and evolve towards being an arbiter in food safety matters. Moreover, the ESC feels that the new body should ultimately be empowered to act as a final arbiter in the case of a conflicting scientific opinion or - at least - take precedence in cases of conflict concerning issues within its realm of responsibility.
The ESC takes the view that the real challenge is to do things better than before and to increase overall confidence in the whole food chain. The ESC intends to monitor future developments and press for action founded on a results-based approach and preventive measures. (The Committee's commitment in this field was shown in its hearing on Topical aspects of BSE on 9 March, at which Commissioner Byrne was keynote speaker before over 200 participants.)
Progress on food safety matters needs to be properly evaluated and interested parties need to be able to judge if the new system - centred on the EFA - is living up to expectations. That is why the ESC stresses the need for evaluation criteria covering areas such as changes in consumer confidence, the occurrence and handling of food crises, and closer cooperation between stakeholders.
In its opinion on the Proposals on the hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, meanwhile, the ESC gives the Commission its broad support, noting nevertheless that the exclusion of the retail trade from the scope of the new regulations is wholly unwarranted in the case of supermarkets and hypermarkets, which have rooms in which large quantities of animal products are prepared.
The ESC also feels that it is very important that training is commensurate with the work of staff, since product safety requires the involvement of all players.
Both opinions were adopted by large majorities.
The full text of this opinion in all eleven official EU languages will shortly be available on the ESC web site at www.esc.eu.int.