Food Law News - EU - 1997

13 February 1997: ADMINISTRATION - Improving Food Safety

Extract from "The Week in Europe", 13th February 1997

Improving Food Safety

A group of Commissioners is being set up to strengthen coordination on food safety and human health issues, the Commission announced yesterday. Headed by Commission President Jacques Santer, the group will also ensure that food safety and health policy are given sufficient political impetus. The seven scientific committees concerned, as well as the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection Offices, will now be attached to Directorate General XXIV, which will be renamed 'consumer policy and health protection'. This reorganisation is the first of the measures that were outlined by Santer last month to the European Parliament's committee of inquiry on BSE. The aim is to make activities on food safety and health more efficient, transparent and balanced, and the approach of the reforms is based on three principles: separation of the functions of drawing up legislation and providing scientific advice; separation of the drawing-up and monitoring of legislation; and strengthening transparency and the dissemination of information throughout decision-making and monitoring operations.

The text of the Press Release issued on 12 February providing more details follows:

Doc. IP/97/112, Brussels, 12 February 1997

Reorganization of the Commission's departments responsible for food health

The European Commission has decided to reorganize its departments to ensure better protection of food health. The reorganization is the first of the measures Jacques Santer, President of the Commission, announced to the European Parliament's Committee of Inquiry on BSE on 15 January 1997. For the time being the Commission has set up a Group of Members of the Commission responsible for food health to supply the requisite political momentum and coordinate its activities. The seven scientific committees concerned and all the plant health, veterinary and food product inspection activities are to report to Directorate-General XXIV, which is renamed Consumer Policy and Consumer Health Protection. The work of the various scientific committees concerned will be coordinated by a Steering Committee which replaces the Multidisciplinary Scientific Committee. This departmental reorganization will be followed by other measures still under consideration.

The principles

The Commission considers that its food health protection activities should be made more efficient, more transparent and better balanced. To bring this about the Commission has decided on a reorganization based on three principles:

(a) in the decision-making process, the departments in charge of drafting legislation must be separate from those responsible for managing Scientific Committees;
(b) the departments in charge of drafting legislation must be separate from those responsible for carrying out checks;
(c) greater weight must be given to the principles of transparency and disseminating information right the way through the process of taking decisions and carrying out checks.


Politically, a Group of Members of the Commission responsible for food health will supply the requisite political momentum and ensure that action taken on health is coordinated. It consists of the Members of the Commission most directly concerned by the matter in hand and is chaired by the President of the Commission.

The Commission has decided to reorganize its departments as regards the scientific consultation and their supporting committees, and inspection activities.

Scientific Committees

The rules governing the composition and operation of Scientific Committees set up by Commission decisions (Multidisciplinary Committee, Food, Animal Nutrition, Pesticides, Veterinary, Cosmetology and Toxicity and Ecotoxicity of Chemical Compounds) vary somewhat as they are attached to different Directorates-General. Consequently, coordination between them is not always satisfactory.

This is why the rules need to be reviewed and harmonized to make sure the Commission always obtains the best scientific opinions possible.

To start with, the Commission has decided that all these committees should be attached to a new Directorate (Directorate for Scientific Opinions regarding Health) in DG XXIV (Consumer Policy and Consumer Health Protection). The Multidisciplinary Scientific Committee will become the Steering Committee and will consist of the chairmen of the various sector-by-sector scientific committees. It will be responsible for ensuring consistency and transparency between the committees' operations.

The way the committees operate will be overhauled to ensure that the opinions they deliver are arrived at transparently and are disseminated both outside and inside the Commission. A data base containing details of the membership of the committees, the subjects and summaries of the opinions delivered will be set up and will be accessible to the public. In addition, DG XII (Science, Research and Development) and the Joint Research Centre will be systematically involved in the scientific opinions: the way the committees are managed and operated will be improved at all levels.

Within two months the Commission will present proposals for improving the operation of the various committees. The time has come for improvement since at present these committees operate in different ways and their composition and methods of appointment are different.


The point is not to give checks a different function but to make them more autonomous and more independent of the departments which draw up the legislation. The Commission has therefore decided to transfer the Office for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection currently attached to DG VI (Agriculture) to DG XXIV, and to rename it the Office for Product Quality Control. It will be located in Ireland.

A special section responsible for evaluating public health risks, foodstuffs inspection and liaison between the Directorate-General and the Office for Product Quality Control and Auditing will be set up and report to DG XXIV. The centralized Early Warning System on dangers arising from the use of consumer products, currently managed by DG III (Industry), will be attached to DG XXIV.

The inspectorate will produce an annual report on the application of the legislation together with appropriate recommendations regarding any improvements that may be needed.

To go to current EU Food Law News page,
click here.
To go to main Food Law Index page, click here.