Cocoa and Chocolate Products Intended for Human Consumption
Following an initial examination by the Council's subordinate bodies and the European Parliament vote at first reading, the Presidency considered that the time had now come for the Council to work out guidelines on the proposal. The Council therefore held a first general discussion at Ministerial level to enable the future Presidency to bring the examination of the Directive to a successful conclusion once the amended Commission proposal was available.
The proposal is part of the effort at simplification of too detailed Directives requested by the Edinburgh European Council in 1992.
Amongst other amendments, the Commission is proposing to extend to the entire Community the possibility already granted to 7 Member States of allowing the placing on the Community market of chocolate using vegetable fats other than cocoa butter, up to a limit of 5% of the weight of the finished product and subject to additional labelling requirements for such fats, with a view to ensuring free circulation of the products. It also offers the possibility of supplementing some names with information relating to quality criteria and, in accordance with usage or with derogations in force, permits some names to continue to be used for products which do not comply with the corresponding definitions.
At this stage, most delegations can support the Commission proposal while some remain opposed to the use of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter in products sold as "chocolate".
The Council decided to continue its discussions on the dossier at a future meeting under the United Kingdom Presidency.
Food Additives other than Colours and Sweeteners
The Council reached agreement by a qualified majority on the draft common position on the amendment of the Directive on food additives other than colours or sweeteners. The German, Austrian and Danish delegations voted against the draft overall compromise drawn up by the Presidency; the Belgian delegation abstained. The Danish and Swedish delegations gave the explanations of vote set out below. Formal adoption of the common position will take place once the text has been finalized; it will then be forwarded to the European Parliament within the framework of the codecision procedure.
The proposal aims to adjust Directive 95/2/EC to certain recent scientific and technical developments. It also extends the list of authorized additives given in the Annex to that Directive to include additives used for traditional foodstuffs in the three new Member States. The proposal follows the guiding principles for food legislation in the Community: observance of the opinion of the Scientific Committee for Food concerning the risk to human health; justification of use on the basis of technological requirements; respect for Member States' traditions.
Explanation of vote from the Danish delegation: The Danish Government cannot record agreement on the Council's common position since it is reluctant to extend the use of sulphite and nisin in foodstuffs. The fact that Directive 95/2/EC concerning additives other than colours and sweeteners authorizes the use of sulphite already results, in the Danish Government's view, in a level of absorption of sulphite by consumers which is inconsistent with the recommendations of the Scientific Committee for Food. It is therefore inappropriate to extend the authorization to use sulphite. Nisin is a substance comparable to antibiotics. The Danish Government considers that such substances should not, as a matter of principle, be included in foodstuffs.
Explanation of vote from the Swedish delegation: The proposal also provides for the authorization to use a number of food additives in foodstuffs for healthy infants and young children. Sweden considers that additives should as far as possible be restricted in foodstuffs for babies, in particular babies between birth and three months of age, in respect of whom scientific opinions on food additives are not applicable from every point of view. The additives currently referred to in the proposal are not, however, such as to endanger children's health and can therefore be accepted.
Coffee Extracts and Chicory Extracts
At first reading, the Council reached unanimous agreement on the substance with respect to the proposal for a Directive on coffee extracts and chicory extracts. Formal adoption of the common position will take place once the text has been finalized, following which it will be forwarded to the European Parliament for a second reading.
The proposal is part of a package of seven vertical foodstuffs Directives which the Commission proposes to simplify in accordance with the conclusions of the Edinburgh European Council. The aim is to retain only those essential requirements to be met by the products covered by these Directives so that the products in question may move freely within the internal market.
Foodstuffs – Simplification of Certain Vertical Directives
The Council heard a report on progress with five proposals for vertical Directives on food. These were the Directives relating to
These proposals are a follow-up to the commitment given by the Commission at the Edinburgh European Council in December 1992 to simplify and streamline certain existing legislation in the light of the subsidiarity principle. They aim to recast and simplify the existing vertical Directives in the perspective of the operation of the internal market, having particular regard to the various general Directives applicable to all foodstuffs adopted subsequent to the vertical Directives.
The Council instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to continue its work in the light of the Opinion still awaited from the European Parliament.
Commission Green Paper on the General Principles of Food Law
The Council held a brief discussion on the Commission's Green Paper on the general principles of food law in the Community.
The Swedish delegation argued for wider consultation of consumers on this issue. It also urged that the legislation adopted be as lightweight as possible and based on a horizontal approach, and that labelling be clear and comprehensive. Finally, the checks carried out by the various authorities should be effective and transparent.
This Green Paper has been or will be the subject of discussions in all relevant compositions of the Council (Agriculture, Consumer Protection, Internal Market, Health). The Presidency announced that it would in due course draw the overall conclusions from the contributions of those various Councils.
The purpose of the Green Paper is to invite public debate on Community food law and enable the Commission to propose appropriate measures to develop that legislation if necessary. To that end, it examines the extent to which the legislation is meeting the needs and expectations of consumers, producers, manufacturers and traders.
Consideration is also given to how the measures to reinforce the independence and objectivity, equivalence and effectiveness of the official control and inspection systems are meeting the basic objectives of ensuring safe, healthy food and the protection of consumers' other interests.