EP News Report, 28 November 2003
Ever since Europe was struck by a series of food scares, including mad-cow disease, the safety of the food chain has become one of the EU's top priorities. Members of Parliament's Environment Committee adopted this Thursday a first-reading report on a new draft regulation which would re-cast several existing pieces of legislation covering food, animal feed, safety, labelling and inspections of these products, including inspections of imports from non-EU countries. The regulation also provides for penalties under criminal law.
The report, by Marit PAULSEN (ELDR, S), was approved by the committee by 30 votes to 22 with 1 abstention. MEPs are seeking to toughen up the Commission's initial proposals and they also criticise the absence of a legal basis which could justify criminal sanctions.
The committee says that every company should be inspected at least once a year. Under the "name and shame" principle, inspection reports and lists of firms that break the rules should be made public. In a number of amendments, MEPs seek to help consumers by making these rules more transparent.
The committee also wants to allow unannounced inspections to check compliance with maximum limits of certain residues (for example pesticides) in connection with both Community and national rules. They are also calling for "systematic", and hence additional, inspections throughout the food chain for organic products to ensure compliance with special rules for these products. All imports should be inspected and, if there is an imminent danger, destroyed. MEPs say that if a Member State has not set up a national inspection programme, the Commission should be allowed to ban sales of products from that Member State.
Regarding the cost of inspections, which are more expensive for small and medium-sized firms than for major food companies, compromise amendments may be proposed at the plenary session in January. For the moment, MEPs have opted for a fee system that takes account of the category of the risk and the turnover of a company as well as the cost for the authorities. Some Members also contest the principle proposed until now of equal fee levels in all Member States, arguing for example that a Lithuanian company would not be able to bear the same costs ast a Swedish firm.