There was widespread support in this morning's debate for the new European Food Authority to oversee food quality to include the name 'safety' in its title. As Phillip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands), reporting for the Environment Committee explained, the goal of the new Agency would be to oversee the way food is produced and as he put it, to repair 'the neglect of decades' and pick up the pieces following food disasters from BSE to dioxins. Parliament's role in the process, he said, was to refine the proposal and specify the Agency's terms of reference, which he underlined, should primarily be food safety. The new body should have clear targeted aims and a proper budget. Its remit would also encompass hygiene, nutrition, quality and take account of traditional foods. It should also be open and transparent with appointments made on merit. The budget of some 44m should come out of the EU's general budget, he felt. As to the location of the new authority, by emphasising that it should contribute to its independence, he recognised that the decision could be based either on codecision or assent of the European Parliament. He preferred for MEPs to be given a free vote.
For the Legal Committee, Evelyne GEBHARDT (PES, D) emphasised that the new body should be based on a solid, legal foundation. She was concerned that the location of the authority might lead to horse trading amongst the Member States but as a starter she opposed President Romano PRODI's choice of Luxembourg. For the Budgets Committee, Wilfried KUCKELKORN (PES, D) was anxious to ensure that it would be a genuine, independent authority and raised the possibility that it could be self-financing through charges as was the case with the Medicines Agency and he expressed disappointment that this idea was not taken on board by the Environment Committee. For the Constitutional Committee, María del Pilar AYUSO GONZÁLEZ (EPP-ED, E) was concerned that the Agency would not have a clear role but looked to the Swedish Presidency to ensure that it would be a genuine independent body. She recognised difficulties over such issues as risk assessment and indeed setting-up an early warning system. She called for a responsible debate on the question of the location of the authority. For the Industry Committee, Christos FOLIAS (EPP-ED, GR) underlined the knock-on effects of food disasters in terms of the social cost of job losses and in this sense underlined the importance of re-establishing consumer confidence. It was also important to develop traditional foods and help SMEs in this context, he felt. For the Agriculture Committee, Mikko PESÄLÄ (ELDR, FIN) was concerned to see farmers represented on the board while Ian HUDGHTON (Greens/EFA, Scotland) speaking for the Fisheries Committee was anxious to see a representative of the fishing industry also on the board. He drew attention to the fact that the industry's problems were slightly different from other foods with issues such as salmon diseases to be faced. Amendments on for example, the definition of contamination were being tabled. He also pointed out the need to take account of the special factors of local coastal fishing villages dependent on fisheries. For the EPP-ED, John BOWIS (EPP-ED, London) pointed out that as a result of the single market and widespread exports and imports of foods, there was a clear need for a European body and common standards to apply to the industry. He also emphasised the need to restore consumer confidence after numerous food scandals and supported the independence of a new authority. It should focus clearly on its role, be transparent and not get bogged down with side issues like health promotion, he felt. It should also report to Parliament with its director appointed after a hearing involving MEPs and it should meet in public.
Karl Erik OLSSON (ELDR, S) emphasised the need for cooperation with the Dublin Agency and looked to the Commission to be taking decisions on food safety which if necessary could include sanctions. Too supporting the proposal, Bart STAES (Greens/EFA, B) was anxious to see cultural diversity as far as food was concerned preserved and local industries not affected by EU bureaucracy. He did, however, support traceability with clear lines of liability in the food chain. He underlined the need for the Agency to be independent and supported increasing the number of members on the board from 12 to 16 to included representation from the farming industry.
Christel FIEBIGER (EUL/NGL, D) underlined the importance of the new Agency to provide independent scientific advice while Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) too looked to the new Agency to provide independent research that should benefit from the latest technology and ensure that all food was traceable. While supporting the Agency, Hans BLOKLAND (EDD, NL) felt that it was difficult to speak of a 'euro consumer' since attitudes to food varied, with for example, a return to meat eating in the Netherlands, while this was not the case in countries such as France and Germany. He did feel, however, that improvements could be made in food production, with animal feed produced locally and not being transported and thus faced with the risk of infection. He also felt that the new Agency should concentrate on risk assessment. Marco CAPPATO (ITGI, I) warned against expecting too much from the new agency, pointing out that its creation would not in itself eliminate food scares and food problems. He did feel however, that it should have a clear role for safety and that its location should guarantee its independence.
Avril DOYLE (EPP-ED, Leinster) underlined the importance of the Agency re-establishing trust in the food industry with its assessments based on the highest scientific opinion. She pointed out, however, that the role of the farmer in the Commission's proposal was not taken into account. She was, therefore, tabling an amendment to plug this gap. She also emphasised the importance of the new body communicating its assessments in a wide a manner as possible.
On the location of the new authority, Philip Rodway BUSHILL-MATTHEWS (EPP-ED, West Midlands) drew attention to an amendment stipulating that it should be located in a country that had a good record of respecting EU legislation. This, he emphasised, was not being made out of malice but rather to tackle hypocrisy and send a signal to Council that EU states should be serious in respecting EU laws. However, replying to the debate Commissioner David BYRNE could not accept this and any other amendments related to the location of the authority. Furthermore, while sympathetic to Parliament's desire to see the word 'safety' included in the title and indeed accepting that this should be one of its functions, the Commissioner was reluctant to take this amendment on board, although he did promise to reflect on this issue and look at it again in view of the strong feeling in the House. Neither could he take on board amendments relating to the composition of the board as he said the proposal here had been carefully drawn up and finely balanced. It would contain representatives appointed by the institutions and consumers and industry. On balance, however, he could accept half of the amendments and emphasised that he welcomed Parliament's support in general for the new Food Authority, seeing the amendments more of a textual nature. Those he could not accept, he emphasised, were either too detailed or went beyond the scope of the legislation at issue. On substance, however, he could accept part of one amendment relating to fraud and another extending the scope to include food distribution. Others that he could not agree with, either challenged the existing definition of the precautionary principle or were related to the EU's international responsibilities and were not therefore appropriate. On the location of the site, he could agree with the general principle that it should be somewhere with rapid access to the centre, a social infrastructure to accommodate the necessary staff and provide for close contact between relevant authorities.