Food Law News - EU - 2002

Council Press Release (C/02/399), Issued 20 January 2003 from meeting 16 - 20 December 2002

HYGIENE / ORGANIC FOOD / CONTAMINANTS / GM FOOD / HORMONES - Report of the Council meeting - Agriculture and Fisheries, 16 - 20 December 2002

The following items are covered:

Food Hygiene

The Council reached unanimous political agreement on a proposal for a Regulation laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin on the basis of the Presidency compromise text, which the Commission endorsed. The Council would not, however, formally adopt a common position until discussions on the third and fifth proposals in the hygiene package had made sufficient progress to guarantee the consistency of the various components of the package and of their application dates and to permit the simultaneous adoption of common positions on the first, second, third and fifth proposals.

The main elements of the final compromise package are as follows:

In July 2000, the Commission adopted a package of five proposals concerning food hygiene. The first proposal was for a Regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs, to establish hygiene rules for all types of food. The Council reached political agreement on this proposal in June 2002. It agreed, however, that it would not adopt a common position until it had made sufficient progress on other elements of the package so as to ensure their consistency, in particular as regards their dates of applications. This Regulation laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin would supplement the general rules of the Regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs.

The Council also adopted a Directive laying down the animal health rules governing the production, processing, distribution and introduction of products of animal origin for human consumption (doc. 14503/02). At its meeting on 28 November 2002 the Council reached political agreement on this text, which is part of the "Hygiene package" presented by the Commission in July 2000.

Organic Production of Agricultural Products

Delegations having confirmed the positions they adopted at the meeting of the Special Committee on Agriculture on 9 December 2002, the Council was unable to act on the proposal for a Council Regulation on organic farming. In the absence of a qualified majority in favour of, or unanimity against the text, it agreed not to return to the dossier until the end of the three-month period available to it.

This Regulation aims to amend EEC Regulation nº2092/91 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto on agricultural products and foodstuffs. It aims at allowing the use of synthetic vitamins as feed additives for ruminants for a transitional period expiring on 31 December 2005 and 'Brewer's yeasts' and 'eggs and eggs' products' in feed.

Under the comitology procedure, the Commission presented this proposal to the Member States in the regulatory committee of the Commission. This proposal could not be adopted due to the opposition of four delegations and the abstention of two delegations. Pursuant to the comitology rules, the dossier was sent back to the Council on 16 October 2002, which should take a decision on it within a period of three months (i.e. before 16 January 2003). If no decision is taken at this date, the Commission could then adopt the envisaged provisions.

Acrylamide in foodstuffs

The German delegation drew the attention of the Council and the Commission to the results of German analyses regarding the acrylamide content of various categories of food, such as bread, chips and French fries, and to the measures taken at national and regional level. It is reminded that on 24 April 2002 the European Commission issued information via the rapid alert system for foodstuffs about the presence of acrylamide in foodstuffs in Sweden. The German delegation expressed its concern about the potential negative health effects on consumers and calls for a Community-wide strategy in order to minimise the risks incurred.

The German delegation, supported by the Belgian, Swedish and Danish delegations, favoured negotiations with the food industry in order to reduce the content of acrylamide in foodstuffs, the exchange of information and an improved cooperation between Member States and the possibility to take common provisions at EU level. The Danish delegation informed the Council of a research programme on acrylamide. The Belgian delegation noted that the examination of samples had not yet raised major concerns at this stage in Belgium.

Commissioner Byrne informed that discussions had already been held on this topic within the Scientific Committee on the Food and Animal chain. He also noted that an exchange of information between Member States and other stakeholders in order to collect data had been initiated in order to reduce the presence of acrylamide in processing and cooking food. He mentioned the establishment of the data base in a very short time on the basis of the information provided by Member States and stakeholders, to allow coordinate actions and provide a global view on this product. He stressed the Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) will soon validate a method for tests on acrylamide.

Genetically modified seeds

The Italian delegation, supported by the French, Austrian, German, Luxembourg and Portuguese delegations, drew the attention of the Council and of the Commission to the possible problems caused by the co-existence of conventional, organic and biotechnological forms of farming.

The United Kingdom and the Danish delegations could agree to re-examine the thresholds on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) agreed at the last Agriculture and Fisheries Council in November 2002, in particular concerning the 0,9 % minimum threshold for labelling rules below which GMOs would be exempted from the labelling requirements. However these delegations emphasised that such a check should be done on the basis of a sound scientific approach.

Commissioner FISCHLER recalled that a strategy paper from the Commission already took account of the issue of the planting of GM seeds. He mentioned that under the current legislation (Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC), GMOs were already subject to a comprehensive assessment and that the Scientific Plant Committee gave its Opinion on that subject. He indicated that the question of the addition of GM seeds to the Community catalogue of seeds had been solved, as GM seeds had already been risk assessed. Concerning the 0,9% threshold, he stressed that this limit was unlikely to be overshot. As regards the possible risks caused by GM seeds, he noted that invoking a safeguard clause would be subject to very stringent conditions. On the risks caused by the proximity in the planting of GM seeds and conventional seeds, he pointed out that the Commission would examine this issue so that a proposal could be submitted rapidly to the Council in 2003.


The Council reached political agreement, the United Kingdom indicating its intention to abstain, on an amended proposal concerning the prohibition on the use in stockfarming of certain substances having a hormonal or thyrostatic action and of beta-agonists. The proposal seeks to amend Directive 96/22/EC so as to confine the use oestradiol 17ß to a limited list of veterinary purposes. The Council will adopt a Common Position, once the text will be finalised.

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