Select Committee on European Union Thirteenth Report


7th REPORT, SESSION 1999-2000: EUROPEAN FOOD AUTHORITY

THE EUROPEAN FOOD AUTHORITY

  The Government welcomes the Report as a valuable contribution to the debate on the proposal to establish a European Food Authority (EUFA). The Government's response to the initial Commission proposals is at Annex A. It covers many of the points identified in the Committee's Report. We address each of the Committee's specific recommendations below.

The Commission's action plan on food safety

  23.  We agree that improvements are needed in order to achieve a more effective and coherent food policy at the Community level. We are however not convinced that the White Paper reflects a sufficiently strategic overview. Apart from the proposals for a European Food Authority, we do not propose at this stage to comment in detail on the Commission's 84-point action plan, but we may wish to look at specific legislative proposals when they come forward. We share the view of witnesses that the programme looks, at first sight, over-ambitious, despite the optimism expressed by the Commission, and with no clear indication of priorities. In its present form it is little more than a shopping list (or in other respects a mere catalogue of actions which are going ahead anyway), and somewhat arbitrary in its coverage—labelling, for instance, being a striking omission. The first 18 items are described as "priority measures", but their importance relative to each other is not made explicit.

  23.1  The Government agrees that the 84-point action plan is ambitious. Nevertheless it does contain a number of individual initiatives on which the Government has been pressing for action for some time, such as the consolidation of the hygiene Directives and action to update Community rules on claims and nutrition labelling. We will be pressing the Commission to review its priorities in the light of these concerns, and in recognition of the fact that there are some important omissions from the proposed work programme. In particular, we believe there is an urgent need for a comprehensive strategic review of Community labelling provisions.

The case for a European Food Authority

  37.  The case for the European Food Authority stands or falls on how far it can genuinely add value and fill gaps—particularly as an authorative source of the best scientific advice in the field—in the development and management of EU food policy over and above what can be achieved by internal reforms in the Commission and other measures proposed in the Food Safety White Paper. We recognise the strength of the political driving force behind the proposal, and agree with the Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy that the Authority has the potential to be "a very useful means of making sure that we have safe food".

  37.1  The Government endorses the Committee's views. It is necessary to rationalise the Commission's efforts and to bring the work on food together in a more coherent and effective European body which adds value to, and avoids duplication of, functions that might be performed elsewhere.

The international dimension

  38.  Above all, it is in the international forum that the EFA is needed. According to our specialist adviser, there is no apparent major input by the EU into the Codex Alimentarius—an area of the utmost significance now for world trade. With the EU being the world's biggest importer and exporter of food, we are surprised to find only a perfunctory mention of the Codex in the White Paper, with no indication of the EFA's potential role in this context. The EU needs to formulate a coherent policy for ensuring that the EFA, in the interests of enhancing consumer confidence, can play a major role in the Codex so that the EFA's analyses have an appropriate influence in Codex analyses. We consider there is an urgent need to review and clarify the EFA's role in this area. This should include considering whether it might be appropriate for the Authority to take over the host functions of EU Member States in relation to particular Codex committees. Alternatively, the existing arrangement of Member States taking the lead in particular areas may have benefits, at least in terms of networking, but it would seem that the current distribution of responsibilities is based more on history than on an objective analysis of where the principal expertise lies: this analysis needs to be carried out.

  38.1  The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body, jointly sponsored by the WHO and FAO. All EU Member States are full members and, in addition, the European Community, represented by the Commission, has observer status. Thanks to changes in procedure worked out under the UK and other recent Presidencies, the EU now have very effective co-ordination arrangements and is currently exercising a very strong influence in the work of Codex. The UK is in the forefront of moves to make the work of Codex more open and transparent, and to increase the level of consumer participation. Extensive consultation with national consumer and other stakeholder groups is organised in the UK prior to each Codex meeting and we are seeking to establish a better balance between consumer and industry observer bodies at Codex meetings. We would be strongly opposed to any further centralisation or dilution of the role of EU Member States in the work and decision making of Codex.

  38.2  However, the value of Codex standards depends of the availability of the best and most up to date scientific risk assessments. In this regard, the work of two independent international expert bodies is of particular importance, namely the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). Consideration is also being given to the establishment of a new expert international committee on the assessment of microbiological risk. The Government fully supports this proposal and is pressing for a radical review of the operation of all the expert committees, including the way experts are appointed and the need for greater openness in the way the committees work. We believe that the EUFA should be able to make a significant contribution to the international risk assessment work carried out by these bodies, thereby ensuring greater credibility of Codex standards in the European Context.

  39.  With the increasing globalisation of the food trade, the Authority will have a significant role in helping to promote uniform safety standards, consistently enforced across the EU, for food imports from third countries, where lower standards may apply. The Chief Executive of the UK Food Standards Agency was able to cite only two recent incidents where contaminated food from outside the EU had reached the UK after having been accepted by another Member State but acknowledged that only the more serious cases would have been notified to the Agency and its precursors. Whilst we do not question the vigilance of the UK authorities, including the new Agency, we find the situation worrying for what it seems to indicate on the state of monitoring and record-keeping, not to mention variable standards of enforcement, across the EU. Clearly there is a major task here for the EFA in securing improvements in current systems.

  39.1  We agree there is a need for more coherent and integrated monitoring and surveillance across the EU including border controls on third country imports. In our response to the Commission, we have drawn attention to the need for close liaison between any new EUFA and the existing Food and Veterinary Office in Dublin. The Commission has proposed new measures on controls (See paragraph 61.2).

  40.  Through its ability to back high standards and procedures by authoritative scientific risk assessment, the Authority will provide essential support to the Commission when it negotiates within the World Trade Organisation and other international bodies on behalf of the EU Member States. The case for the Authority is further reinforced by the probability of continuing asymmetry between existing Member States in their national arrangements for implementing and enforcing EU food safety law—only eight out of the 15 have set up, or have firm plans to set up, agencies such as the UK Food Standards Agency, and the enlargement of the Union is likely to be an added complication. A pan-European Authority would be of vital benefit to the candidate states as they bring their standards, practices and laws into line with those of the existing Member States.

  40.1  We agree that the Authority should be able to provide support to the Community in negotiations within WTO and international bodies on risk assessment matters. While enforcement remains the responsibility of national authorities, there is a need for greater harmonisation of controls. (see response to paragraph 61).

Status, structure and accountability

  45.  We do not disagree with the Commission's choice of institutional status for the EFA, which we think is consistent with the necessarily close relationship between the Authority, DG SANCO and other Commission directorates-general. We note the various suggestions that have been made about board membership and other management arrangements. These are not dealt with in the White Paper and we do not feel it is necessary to express a view at this stage, except to say that if the Authority is to acquire a reputation for independence and authoritative science, the membership of its board and committees, and its management structure and style, must be such as to command the confidence of the whole spectrum of interest concerned with the food chain, including consumers and environmental groups.

  46.  We agree with MEPs that close links, both formal and informal, between the EFA and the European Parliament are essential to support the Parliament's role as co-legislator with the Council, even if that stops short of formal accountability, and that the Parliament and its committees should have the right to call in representatives of the Authority to assist them in their deliberations. It is important that the Authority should develop its relationship with the Parliament in a positive and constructive manner, and avoid the kind of reactive stance which is sometimes a feature of the Commission's dealings with MEPs.

  46.1  We consider that the key attributes of any Authority must be scientific excellence, openness, independence of commercial interests and a determination to act in the interests of consumers. We have drawn attention to the need for the closest possible linkage between the functions of risk assessment and risk management. The responsibilities and resources transferred to a EUFA must enable it to command the respect of consumers, industry and national authorities.

  46.2  No legal base has yet been proposed for the Authority and we await more detailed Commission proposals on the structure as well as the status and accountability of the new body. The Government has proposed that the EUFA should report annually to the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament as well as making such reports publicly available.

Formal powers

  51.  Without ruling out the possibility of future Treaty change, we accept that for the present the EFA should not have formal powers of regulation and enforcement. In any case we would regard it as politically unrealistic to propose giving such powers to a relatively unknown quantity such as the EFA, which has yet to emerge as a firm legislative proposal before it can even start to build a track record which might justify entrusting it with more powers. This can only serve to underline the inescapable responsibilities for enforcement which lie with the Council, the Commission and the Member States.

  52.  The EFA's activities should therefore reinforce and add distinct value to the way in which the Commission and Member States apply their own powers of regulation and enforcement, paying particular attention to the need to achieve consistency across the EU. The Authority's role would thus go further than simply collecting, monitoring and publishing data, in that it would make a direct input to risk management and policy-making by virtue of its scientific expertise and through its freedom to give independent advice to the Commission on its own initiative.

  52.1  We consider that formal responsibility for legislation should remain with the Council and the European Parliament under established procedures. The Government also agrees that Member States must remain responsible for enforcing controls and practices (see response to paragraph 59).

  52.2  However, the Authority must have a direct input into the identification and choice of risk management options (see also response to paragraph 89).

A proactive role

  59.  It is most important that the EFA should be proactive in offering advice and in recommending action, based on its assessments of the adequacy of systems in place in the Member States. The need for better and more consistent implementation, enforcement and monitoring of food safety laws has been stressed by many witnesses; and to this end Chapter 3 of the White Paper emphasises the importance of a comprehensive and effective EU-wide monitoring and surveillance system. The precise role of the EFA is not clearly spelled out. Enforcement would not be a function of the Authority, as currently envisaged, but it could highlight failures to enforce. In order to do so, it would depend on having an adequate information (and indeed audit) system into which it could tap.

  60.  The White Paper expressly states that the EFA is to have an information system but does not clarify how that information system is to work. The surveillance system envisaged by Commissioner Byrne implies either an independent mechanism for collating data (which would be disproportionately expensive) or that the EFA should have access as of right to Member States' surveillance schemes, with a particular responsibility for integrating and assessing data. We favour the latter option, and would add that the Authority must be in a position to obtain relevant data from Member States, backed as necessary by the Commission's own powers to require the production of information.

  61.  In this context, the EFA's credibility will depend on the Commission's willingness to act on its advice and to ensure proper enforcement; otherwise the Authority will be seen as being somehow responsible for the Commission's failure to act. The White Paper proposals do not provide an adequate response to the complaints about inadequate and inconsistent compliance with food safety requirements across the EU. We recommend that when the Commission brings forward its proposals for establishing the EFA it should specify precisely how surveillance is going to be conducted on a Community-wide basis and how the EFA is going to play its part in assessing compliance with food regulations, either directly or via the Food and Veterinary Office.

  61.1  The Government agrees that enforcement should remain the responsibility of national authorities. However, as we have already noted, close links with the Food and Veterinary Office will be essential to ensuing effective co-ordination of EU-wide monitoring work (see response to paragraph 104).

  61.2  The Commission is proposing to bring forward new measures to harmonise official controls and ensure a common approach to enforcement and control by Member States. We need to study the Commission proposals in more detail but have always regarded it as important that controls are applied equally effectively across the Union.

  61.3  There is already a wealth of information available within Member States that could be brought together in a more coherent way by an EUFA, which could well build on the existing Scientific Co-operation Programme (SCOOP). Such a role together with links to the FVO should facilitate earlier identification of EU wide emerging trends that may impact on food safety.

"The scientific point of reference for the whole Union"

  72.  From our consideration of the evidence, we can identify at least six major deficiencies in the current arrangements for scientific advice:

    (a)  There is no formal interactive process between the Commission's advisory committees and Member States' own expert committees;

    (b)  There is no formal responsibility for transforming their highly technical reports into meaningful statements for communicating to those other than fellow experts;

    (c)  There are no formal mechanisms for obtaining and analysing data from Member States; the committees' risk analyses are therefore often theoretical and do not deal with risks that occur in practice;

    (d)  Although the outcomes of committee analyses (ie reports, minutes etc) go on the Internet, there is no mechanism for routine involvement with either public interest of industrial groups.

    (e)  There is minimal scientific and administrative support for the Commission's committees—so much so that the tasks assigned to the committees at present overwhelm them; even if information flows could be improved, the quality of the committees' scientific analyses would continue to be adversely affected by the other deficiencies;

    (f)  As a result, the Commission is not always able to bring in the world's best experts because those experts are deterred by the prospect of being engulfed by demands for instant analyses and lengthy reports.

  73.  Many of these deficiencies are the subject of discussion elsewhere in this Report. One thing is clear—that the EFA must ensure that it identifies the best science from anywhere in the world. Where competing national views and prejudices obscure the science, the Authority must be able to offer a totally objective view. We do not think that this can be achieved by formally decreeing that, in the event of disagreement, the Authority's opinion should prevail: experience of the BSE crisis suggests that this is unlikely to work. It is more a question of the Authority establishing its reputation as an acknowledged "point of reference"; this will take time and will depend crucially on the quality of the scientists which the EFA is able to recruit for the expert committees and of those to whom it turns for advice externally.

  74.  To bind all this together a scientific secretariat of the highest calibre is needed within the EFA. This secretariat—which must be properly resourced—should be responsible for co-ordinating and commissioning research from around the world, and would ensure that the Authority's advice was firmly based on a consistent and cumulative corpus of knowledge and expertise.

  74.1  The Government supports the Committee's view that there are flaws in the current arrangements for the provision of scientific advice at EU level, although the advice itself is of a very high standard.

  74.2  We also agree that, in matters of dispute, the Authority must be able to offer an objective view, having regard to all the practical constraints and the fact that no scientific opinion is ever totally conclusive (see response to paragraph 89). It will need a strategy for dealing with disagreements between national bodies (also raised at paragraph 99), which will need to cover early identification of potential problems followed by open discussion, based on the best available scientific information and analysis. We support the setting up of a consultative committee of the heads of the national agencies to assist the EUFA in this work.

  74.3  A scientific secretariat of the highest quality to support the scientific advisory committees will be essential, if the Authority is to achieve its goal of becoming a source of authoritative opinion on scientific matters relating to food.

The Joint Research Centre

  78.  We deprecate the implied assumption of the White Paper that in-house science is necessarily the best. In the case of the JRC, we believe that the concerns expressed some three years ago by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee remain valid today; we are therefore disturbed by the Commission's apparent bias towards the JRC. If only in terms of its public image, we do not see how the EFA can possibly achieve the authoritative status envisaged so long as there is scope for suspicion that the JRC is being given an inside track unexposed to peer review, in providing advice on matters of food safety.

  78.1  The Government shares the Committee's anxieties. The EUFA must be free to make use of the expertise in the Member States and to establish good links with international expert groups including cutting-edge research centres. All research work should, as a matter of course, be put out to tender in open competition so as to obtain the best possible scientific advice, in the most cost effective manner.

Risk assessment, management and communication

  89.  Sound and transparent risk assessment will be a crucial function of the EFA, underpinning risk management decisions. We accept the basic proposition that for the present there should be a clear division of responsibility, with risk assessment going to the EFA and risk management staying with the Commission, along with regulation and enforcement. There should, however, be close two-way interaction across the divide, and both the Authority and the Commission should be governed by the principles of openness, transparency of processes, full dialogue with stakeholders and public accountability.

  89.1  The need for close and effective communication between the EUFA and the Commission is one of the key points made by the Government in its formal response. Whilst we agree that legislation should remain with the existing democratic institutions, the implied division of the official/technical-level functions of risk assessment and risk management between the EUFA and the Commission is the least satisfactory aspect of the Commission's proposals. We do not consider that the proposals set out in the White Paper adequately address the need to link the processes of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.

  89.2  Coherence in the processes of risk analysis is vitally important if policy decisions are to be properly based on sound science and public confidence is to be maintained and enhanced. If these functions are split, as in the Commission's model, between different bodies it will be essential for co-ordination mechanisms to be put in place to ensure a coherent approach.

  90.  Risk communication we see as a shared responsibility, particularly in view of the EFA's proposed responsibility for the Rapid Alert System. Although this function is not spelled out in the White Paper, it must in our view be closely allied to risk management, since the judgement whether or not to sound the alarm will be at least as much a political as a scientific one. In this respect the Commission's distinction between risk assessment and risk management becomes blurred. Risk communication goes further than simply issuing factual statements describing what is being done or putting documents on the Internet. The public wants to know the reasons why action is being taken as a result of risk assessment; it also needs information and advice as a basis for questioning governments.

  90.1  We strongly agree that risk communication must be intimately linked to risk management. Giving responsibility for risk assessment and communication to the EFA, while the Commission continues to be responsible for risk management, with a separagraphte communication role of its own, will require radical new procedures and disciplines if the risk of conflicting messages is to be avoided, particularly in an emergency. For these reasons, the Government has proposed to the Commission that the EUFA should be responsible for communicating a single coherent message on both risk assessment and risk management.

  91.  In our view, the interests of the European consumer demand that the EFA should have freedom to transmit to the public, the Commission and Member States the essence of its scientific analyses and how far the Commission, in its management responses, has reflected or failed to act on the analyses set out by the EFA. It should also offer opinions and guidance to the Commission on practical problems arising in the Community. The Commission's responsibility must then be to specify what response it is making to the analysis of risk provided by the EFA and how it has interpreted in legal terms any proposals that emerge from the Authority's advice.

  92.  The White Paper generally lacks precision on the respective roles of the EFA and the Commission, and it may be that this should be allowed to evolve pragmatically. Although we agree with some of our witnesses that risk communication may be more effectively handled at Member State and local levels, we would not wish to see artificial constraints placed on the EFA's freedom to communicate risk to whatever audience and on whatever issues (within its remit) it sees fit. We share the view that ignoring or suppressing minority scientific opinions can have the effect of undermining consumer confidence; panic can usually be avoided by being open about the range of opinion.

  92.1  The Government agrees with the Committee on these points. The EUFA should be able to identify practical solutions and options and make recommendations for action to the Commission. We have also suggested that the Commission be placed under an obligation to respond to EUFA's recommendations within a set time and explain the action they propose taking.

  92.2  It is also important that highly technical and complex information from scientific advisory committees, including minority views, is communicated to the various stakeholders, including consumers in a clear and comprehensible way.

Precautionary principle

  93.  We also agree with several witnesses that the Commission's Communication on the Precautionary Principle contains some valuable further elucidation of the White Paper's treatment of risk. If used correctly, the Principle can be a highly appropriate yardstick for risk management decisions. Its advantages, however, can be diluted—to the point of being perceived as disguised protectionism—if it has the effect of stopping any activity simply because it has risk attached to it. Having said that, we recognise that the Communication raises issues which go wider than the EFA proposals. We may therefore wish to return to them in another context and on a future occasion.

  93.1  Where food safety is concerned, the Government believes we must ensure a high level of consumer protection, and therefore supports a precautionary approach being taken to food safety matters. It is important to develop agreed ground rules on how this to be achieved, without encouraging protectionism or erecting arbitrary barriers to trade. The recent Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle is a useful contribution to this debate.

Relations with national authorities

  98.  A great deal of thought and planning at national level has gone into the recently created agencies such as those in France and the United Kingdom, and others which have been operating longer (such as the Irish Food Safety Authority and the Swedish National Food Administration) are valuable sources of scientific expertise and practical experience. It is important that the EFA does not waste time and resources on reinventing the wheel. It must reinforce, not undermine, national agencies and systems. It has a dual task of learning from others' experience and of providing an outreach service to Member States who are less advanced in developing national food safety systems; this will be particularly true of the candidate states for EU membership.

  99.  The last point has potentially far-reaching implications, both for trade and consumers' interests. There is a dilemma: on the one hand, as we have emphasised, the EFA must be complementary to, and not duplicate, Member States' own systems; considerations of subsidiarity and efficiency suggest that the new Authority should be a facilitator rather than playing the dominant role. On the other hand, the EFA will be useless unless it becomes in some sense a first among equals in an expanded European Union. This does not mean, however, that (as we have commented in paragraph 73) the EFA should have powers to override expert opinion in Member States in cases of disagreement. The Authority must harness and engage scientific expertise from across the Union—indeed from around the world—and has to win its position of pre-eminence through consensus building.

  100.  A national agency, such as the UK FSA, should interact on a regular, even daily, basis with officials in the EFA, so that the agency can be both fully aware of and indeed influence EFA policy and expertise. The suggestion (eg from BBSRC) that the FSA should predominate in UK affairs may be correct in the context of enforcement, but in terms of scientific analyses it makes little sense—because it presupposes the existence of bodies of equivalent calibre not only in other Member States but in the expanded Union. In our view it will be necessary to confront the need for the EFA not only to set new standards of scientific analysis but at the same time to nurture national agencies in those states that do not have bodies equivalent to the UK FSA.

  100.1  The Government agrees that the EUFA must both complement and add value to existing structures. It will need to network constructively with national food agencies and authorities to make the most effective use of the expertise available within the Member States, including those that do not have national Agencies.

  100.2  We would expect any recommendations from the EUFA to be based on full consultation with, and the close participation of, our own Food Standards Agency.

Relations with the Food and Veterinary Office

  103.  Although we understand why it is convenient to the Commission for the Food and Veterinary Office to be an integral part of DG SANCO, consideration of the FVO's functions suggests that it has a much greater affinity with the EFA's proposed "information gathering and surveillance function"—ambiguous though that may be—than with the Commission's risk management and enforcement responsibilities. We have therefore, after some deliberation, come to the conclusion that it would be right to bring together the functions of the EFA and the FVO. The question whether any amendment of the EC Treaty is needed would have be looked into, but essentially we see this move as doing no more than reinforcing the powers already envisaged for the Authority.

  104.  If this proposal is not immediately practicable, close liaison between the EFA and the FVO will clearly be essential and, for so long as the two bodies remain separagraphte, the EFA must have the right of immediate access to all FVO analyses and findings, particularly if the EFA is going to be heavily involved in, and indeed responsible for, the Rapid Alert System. It goes without saying that there should be utmost transparency in relation to the FVO's audit activities and findings, as there would be if they became part of the EFA's remit.

  104.1  The Government agrees that close liaison between the EUFA and the FVO is essential. The FVO has a distinct formal responsibility to monitor and report on Member State enforcement of legislation, and rapid feedback to EUFA could provide an important means of identifying any emerging health concerns.

Public health in the wider sense, including nutrition

  108.  We consider that the EFA's role should, as proposed in the White Paper, be primarily focused on food safety. We recognise that wider aspects of public health (including nutrition) are areas which, like food safety, involve major public concern and scientific complexity. Nutrition relates to both food safety and public health, and therefore needs to be considered in both sectors. We believe, however, that the EFA should deal with nutrition issues only to the extent that they have implications for food regulation policy, and that other aspects should be given separagraphte and careful consideration by the Commission.

  108.1  The Government accepts that the type of body proposed by the Commission will need to focus primarily on food safety. Nonetheless, such a body may also be in a good position to provide authoritative scientific advice on nutrition and encourage co-operation among Member States, although it should not become directly involved in healthy eating campaigns or policy issues which are best dealt with at national or local level. The Government is pressing the Commission to bring forward proposals for mandatory nutrition labelling, to help people make more informed choices about the diets they choose and the food they buy. We are also seeking harmonised EU provisions for the control of health claims and functional foods.

Environmental issues

  110.  The EFA must demonstrate sensitivity to environmental as well as consumer interests. Integration of environmental concerns into other areas of EU policy has been a key theme of recent years, particularly since the Amsterdam Treaty. We do not believe that the Authority should necessarily be involved directly in environmental policy issues, eg biodiversity. But it is essential that it develops close links with the European Environment Agency and the policy-makers in DG Environment, and that it plays its own part in pursuing the environmental integration agenda. This would require the Authority to be alert to any potentially adverse impacts which food safety policies might have on the environment. Similarly, as several witnesses have pointed out, reform of the CAP has profound implications for food production (not to mention nature conservation). Again, it is essential that the EFA liaises closely with the DGs responsible for agriculture and fisheries. We would regard as a natural part of the Authority's remit the freedom to draw attention to issues which affect the quality and safety of food in all these areas of policy.

  110.1  While the Government would not be in favour of giving the EUFA responsibilities for such matters as animal welfare, or environmental protection, which involve a different set of policy considerations, it would support effective communication between the Authority and the Commission DGs to ensure maximum overall coherence in the EU's policies.

Funding

  112.   Not too much weight should be attached at this stage to the various figures for the EFA's budget which have been bandied about unofficially. The funding of the Authority must reflect a clearly focused role, which makes best use of both in-house and external resources. We would expect a large element of the budget to go on collecting and collating data and on commissioning research, including desk research. This is a matter to be considered carefully when the Commission come forward with its final proposals, following consultation.

  112.1  The Government notes that no serious consideration has yet been given to the question of resources. This is one of the points we have questioned in our response to the Commission. We will expect a more careful consideration of budgetary details to accompany any formal proposals. Most of the proposed functions for the new Authority are already carried out within the Commission and the Government would expect existing resources to be reassigned to the Authority. Any additional resources would have to be justified in terms of the agreed added value of the new arrangements.

Location

  114.  We do not feel that the location of the EFA is a matter on which we need express a firm opinion, but we agree that there does seem to be a good case for a central location, eg in Brussels. The important requirement, however, is that there should be good linkages between the EFA and other relevant Community institutions and offices, particularly the Food and Veterinary Office.

  114.1  The Government agrees that there is a good case for locating the EUFA in a central location, given the importance of close functional links between risk assessment, risk management, risk communication and legislation.

General Conclusions and Recommendation

  115.  The White Paper leaves unresolved a number of questions, not least on the status and powers of the proposed European Food Authority. Although in general we support the concept of the Authority, in our opinion the proposal stands or falls on whether the EFA, as constituted, can be given the resources and powers to enable it to establish a track record in scientific excellence—a process which we acknowledge will take time—and to develop rapidly an effective monitoring and surveillance capability, coupled with ability to interact productively with national food agencies and equivalent authorities in the Member States. Achievement of these aims will depend on political will—on the part of Member States and the Commission—to see the Authority succeed. Otherwise the exercise may prove to be a waste of time.

  116.  Scientific excellence is the overriding goal. The EFA must be given the chance to show that it has genuine potential to become, in the words of the White Paper, "the scientific point of reference for the whole Union", which we see as essential for underpinning tangible improvements in food safety standards, more consistent implementation and enforcement, and enhanced consumer confidence. Later, depending on its performance, it may be appropriate to consider whether the Authority should be given an enhanced role in relation to risk management; this, however, should be seen as reinforcing, not replacing, the unequivocal responsibility of the Council, the Commission and the Member States to ensure that food safety standards are based on best science, and that Community law is enforced rigorously and consistently throughout the European Union in accordance with the EFA's advice. Meanwhile we look forward to seeing the Commission's considered legislative proposals for the Authority, on which we may wish to offer a further opinion.

  116.1  The Government reiterates its support for the establishment of an EUFA that will provide improved coherence and expert consideration of food safety issues. The White Paper leaves a number of questions unresolved and we note that the Commission's consultation exercise is but the first step in defining the European Food Authority. We look forward to receiving more detailed proposals from the Commission in due course.

June 2000


 
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