"I appreciate the excellent work of the many Parliamentarians involved in drafting this report and wish to thank them for their speed in dealing with this complex text" the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said, addressing today's plenary session in Strasbourg. "The European Parliament has well understood that we need thorough measures to reinforce the fragile public confidence in the capacity of the food industry and public authorities to ensure that food is safe. I now look forward to further progress on this proposal in the Council of Ministers, where Member States are also making extraordinary efforts under the Swedish Presidency to bring the text close to political agreement before the summer. The Nice summit's conclusions have clearly outlined our timetable - to ensure that we have an operational Food Authority early in 2002."
The Commission presented its proposal for a Regulation on General Food law and establishing a European Food Authority on November 8 last year, to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in co-decision procedure. The Food Authority as proposed will be an independent legal entity with its own budget, executive director and management board. The proposal has been examined in six Parliamentary Committees before a final report was drawn up by the Parliament's Rapporteur, Phillip Whitehead MEP. It presents more than 200 amendments to the original Commission proposal.
Commissioner Byrne today said that the Commission is able to accept fully or in principle more than half of these amendments. These notably include provisions to make the functioning of the EFA more transparent. The Commission could not accept detailed amendments that would compromise the horizontal nature of the proposed text, which are in many cases dealt with in more specific proposals put forward or to be presented in follow-up to the White Paper on Food Safety. In particular, the Commission cannot accept amendments narrowing the scope of the Authority's activity.
The Whitehead report supports the Commission's approach that general principles of food law should cover the whole food chain, including the safety of feed for food-producing animals, and the key role of risk analysis in this. It also supports the basic remit of the Food Authority, responsible for the scientific risk assessment part of the overall risk analysis process. In the Commission's view the EFA will therefore cover all scientific matters which may have a direct or indirect effect on the safety of the food supply. This includes all stages of production and supply, from primary production, safety of animal feeds, pesticides, and GMOs right through to the supply of food to consumers. But the Whitehead report takes a more restrictive view, tabling amendments that would reduce the Authority's role in the field of animal health and welfare and on issues like plant health and GMO's to those directly related to food safety. For the Commission, a wider remit is necessary to avoid the failures of the past such as early identification of animal health problems that can pose a risk to human health, as in the case of BSE. The European Parliament's position supports the EFA's role as a major risk communicator providing information on food safety to the general public.
The Commission also accepted the Parliament's request to continue to operate the Rapid Alert System. This is also supported by the Council, whilst the Commission had originally proposed to have its operation dealt with by EFA.
The basic principles of food law as outlined in the proposal require a high level of health protection and require that only safe food be placed on the market. The primary responsibility for safe food is to rest with industry, producers and suppliers, while competent authorities in the Member States are to ensure that the respect of food legislation is effectively controlled s at all points in the chain from farm to table, including in animal feed manufacturing establishments. The proposed regulation will also make it mandatory for businesses to have systems in place for tracing from whom they have purchased foods and to whom they have supplied them.