Food Law News - EU - 2002

European Parliament Daily Notebook, 5 September 2002

CONTAMINANTS - Commission Statement: Food safety - Hormone contamination in Europe's farms

Following the discovery of the hormone MPA - medroxyprogestrone acetate in food additives which had originated in Ireland, and were sold on via-Belgium over the summer break, Commissioner David BYRNE made a statement on Commission efforts to remedy the problem. The hormone originated in waste water from an Irish pharmaceutical firm, which was sold on to a waste management firm and then to Belgium. By the time Dutch farmers bought it, it was contained in treacle or glucose syrup used for pig feed.

The cost of the hormone contamination had been very high, remarked the Commissioner. Large amounts of food and feed have had to be destroyed, the impact has been particularly hard in the Netherlands. Dutch farmers have begun slaughtering 50,000 pigs at risk of contamination by illegal growth hormones at 57 different farms.

The Commissioner stated that the contamination resulted from poor implementation of EU legislation relating to the disposal of pharmaceutical waste and the carelessness of certain feed producers in their selection of raw material suppliers. The EU Standing Committee on Food and Feed Contamination will meet on September 11th to assess which further measures will be necessary to prevent any further contamination. He said that investigations are still ongoing to determine the exact cause of the hormone contamination. However the Commissioner contended that proper implementation of existing legislation would have prevented this incident. On the other hand, the Commissioner said that the Commission would come forward with a new proposal on feed hygiene in order to improve traceability.

For the EPP/ED, John BOWIS (London) lamented this latest food scandal to add to olive oil, BSE and other adverse incidents affecting the industry. In this case the banned hormone, MPA, is suspected of causing infertility in pigs and humans. Furthermore, the knock-on effect and the spread of the contaminated feed to numerous other European countries only showed the need for close co-operation between the various different authorities responsible for inspection but Mr Bowis asked what was the point of the European Parliament and the European Union passing laws designed to guard against this kind of incident if they were not enforced. It was necessary to find out if proper monitoring checks had been carried out and indeed if there was criminal negligence.

For the PES, Dagmar ROTH-BEHRENDT (D) too drew attention to the long campaign in Parliament to improve regulations and checks on animal feed. It seemed that there were no measures that the producers would not go to in the search for new cheaper ways of making this kind of food. She felt it was extraordinary that the banned hormone seemed to have originated from wastewater from a chemical company which was then used in the feed. Traces of the substance had even been found in baby food. There was, she said, a need for more effective controls and quicker processes in the courts to deal with those responsible. The aim, she said, should be to stop the process of waste products going into animal feed completely and if necessary incentives should be introduced to achieve this.

For the Liberals, Jan MULDER (NL) wondered what role the Veterinary Office in Dublin could play here and indeed whether it had sufficient staff to carry out inspections. The new European Food Agency should also help but he thought there was a need for clarity with regard to different levels of responsibility for controls in the food chain. She wanted to see a 'positive list' of ingredients for feed. Clear traceability and a quality label were other positive measures that would restore the confidence of consumers he felt.

Christel FIEBIGER (EUL/NGL, D) too felt there was a need for clarity with regard to the different layers of inspectors. She called for tough penalties for those breaching the regulations.

Bart STAES (B) for the Greens felt that feed producers were just driven by profit and he called for stricter controls and closer co-operation or the introduction of a rapid alert system across Europe between the different national bodies. In the end, he said, all practices that did not actually increase protein or provide any other increase in quality to animal feed should be banned.

Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) welcomed the Commissioner's response to this latest grave incident but did point out that thankfully such occurrences were few and far between. Yet he recognised the impact on the general public was considerable and that there was a need to restore confidence amongst consumers. He felt on balance that the new measures being taken were in fact working and that greater transparency would also help. It was vital to ensure the production of quality food, he concluded, but those responsible for any breaches in the regulations should be severely punished.

Phillip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands) said that it is essential to have a better-funded and better-staffed Food and Veterinary Office. He questioned whether sufficient means were contributed by the Member States to meet the desired ends of consumer health. In order to prevent further contamination, all Member States must take equal precautions and provide equal information. He questioned whether all Member States could provide this information. He wanted to know whether the slow implementation of the new European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) might have contributed to the lack of proper enforcement.

Replying to the debate, Commissioner Byrne reminded the House that before the end of the year, there would be an opportunity to discuss waste policy in the debate on animal by-products legislation. He also stated that the creation of a 'positive list' of safe products which the Commission is currently undertaking would not have prevented MPA contamination, as this is an unsafe and unwanted product and would not be included in the list. With regard to the new European Food and Safety Authority, he remarked that the board had been put in place and the new Executive Director would be appointed shortly. He appealed to the Parliament to release the necessary budget credits for the speedy establishment of the Authority. New legislation would focus on improving implementation of existing legislation including increased penalties for breaking rules on information provision. Finally, the Commissioner is awaiting a response from the Irish authorities over the contamination, which is expected later this month.

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