Community rules on the sensitive issue of treating foodstuffs and food ingredients with ionizing radiation have today been agreed between the two branches of the Community's legislative authority, i.e. the European Parliament and the Council.
Meeting in the conciliation committee, the delegations of the two institutions agreed on
As soon as the texts have been finalized in the official Community languages, each institution will have six weeks to confirm the agreement definitively - by an absolute majority of the votes cast in the case of the Parliament, and by qualified majority in the case of the Council - subject to which the new directives will be adopted. The Italian delegation has indicated that it will vote against.
Food irradiation is a physical method of processing food, similar to methods such as heat treatment, freezing or addition of additives.
The Commission's proposal - initially a single text - was presented 10 years ago in December 1988. Its main objective has always been to establish the internal market in this area, as some Member States currently authorize the irradiation of foods and food ingredients whilst others prohibit it. Today's agreement provides for a harmonized approach as to the principles governing irradiation; in contrast, harmonization of the list of foods and food ingredients that may be treated by this method will only be achieved in stages.
The framework Directive applies to the manufacture, marketing and importation of foods and food ingredients. Food irradiation may be authorized only if:
Food irradiation may be used only for the following purposes:
The treatment of foodstuffs or ingredients with ionizing radiation - even when such an ingredient constitutes less than 1% of the finished product - will always have to be mentioned on the label; for products sold in bulk, the words "irradiated" or "treated with ionizing radiation" must appear on a display or notice.
The purpose of the implementing Directive is to establish a positive list of foodstuffs which may be treated with ionizing radiation.
The initial Community list, together with the maximum doses authorized for this purpose, is limited to dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings. Such products, if not treated, are frequently contaminated and/or infested with organisms harmful to human health, and the alternative form of treatment by using fumigants is no longer allowed because of the toxic potential of their residues.
The complete list will be established in stages, with the Commission submitting proposals (to the European Parliament and the Council which will decide under the codecision prodedure), after examination of the national authorizations in force and after consultation of the Scientific Committee for Food. By 31.12.2002 at the latest, the Commission will submit a proposal intended to establish the final positive list.
Full harmonization will therefore be achieved only with the entry into force of the final positive list. Until that date, Member States can maintain existing authorizations concerning the treatment of foodstuffs with ionizing radiation provided that
Likewise, Member States may, in compliance with the rules of the Treaty continue to apply existing national restrictions or bans on ionizing radiation of foodstuffs and food ingredients and on trade in irradiated foodstuffs as long as the foodstuff or food ingredient does not appear on the positive list established by the implementing Directive.
The following transposition periods apply: Member States have 18 months to adapt their legislation in such a way as to permit the marketing and use of irradiated foodstuffs, and a period of grace of 24 months to prohibit the marketing and use of irradiated foodstuffs not complying with the framework Directive. As for the initial list refered to above, the transposition period is again 18 months.
The European Parliament, on second reading, had adopted 14 amendments, three of them to the implementing Directive.
A number of amendments clarifying the text of the framework Directive and making it more specific were accepted by the Council. An amendment halving the grace period for prohibition of irradiated foodstuffs not complying with the Directive to 12 months was withdrawn by the Parliament during conciliation (as stated above 18 months are allowed for incorporation of the Directive into national legislation). This left three groups of amendments touching upon more difficult issues: