16 May 2000
By the Select Committee appointed to consider European
Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.
A EUROPEAN FOOD AUTHORITY
||White Paper on Food Safety in the European Union (COM(99)719)
1: INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
The White Paper
1. The Commission's White Paper (12 January 2000)
is the sequel to the Green Paper on the general principles of
food law in the European Union (30 April 1997, COM(97)176). The
Green Paper invited comments on the principles which should underpin
a programme of rationalisation and review of food law in the Community.
2. The objective of the White Paperwhich is
a discussion paper, not a legislative proposalis to ensure
that Community institutions and legislation bring about a high
standard of food safety for European consumers. The proposals
are based on the following guiding principles:
- food safety is the overriding objective
- primary responsibility for safety lies with producers,
manufacturers, retailers and other operators
- there must be a comprehensive and integrated
approach to food law, covering the whole of the food chain "from
farm to table"
- all inputs to the food chain should be transparent
- controls must operate consistently across all
3. Included in the White
Paper is an outline proposal for a European Food Authority (EFA),
with responsibility for monitoring, information gathering, risk
assessment, provision of scientific advice, dissemination of scientific
advice and information, and operation of the Rapid Alert System.
Responsibility for proposing legislation (and for enforcement
at Community level) would remain with the Commission.
4. The Commission specifically invited comments on
the proposed new Authority by the end of April 2000. In the light
of the comments received, it intends to present a legislative
proposal in September 2000. The legal instrument for setting up
the EFA (which will probably take the form of a Decision by the
Council of Ministers and the European Parliament) will be subject
to the "Co-decision" legislative procedure, under which
full agreement between the Council and the Parliament is required
before a measure can be passed. The Commission's current target
for adoption of the measure is December 2001 and it is envisaged
that the Authority might start operating in 2002.
5. The White Paper also sets
out a detailed programme of food safety and standards work for
the next three years. In addition to the EFA proposal (which is
assigned the highest priority), 83 separate measures are listed,
covering food safety, nutrition, labelling and relations with
third countries. Of these, 17 are described as "priority
measures" and include:
- reforming and extending the Rapid Alert System
- establishing a comprehensive safeguard measure
covering the whole food chain, including animal feed
- a General Food Law Directive establishing
food safety as the primary objective of EU food law
- establishing a coherent framework of controls
on animal feed
- reviewing the operation of rules covering
novel foods, including genetically modified ingredients and
6. The proposals of the White
Paper, taken as a whole, are presented against the background
of a radical reorganisation of responsibilities for food safety
within the Commission, including the creation of a new and expanded
Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General (DG), now known
in place of the former DG XXIV (White Paper, paragraph 22).
These changes took place in the late autumn of 1997 as part of
the previous Santer Commission's response to the BSE affair, and
included the transfer to DG XXIV of responsibility for eight sectoral
scientific advisory committees
which had previously reported to DG III (Industry); at the same
time a new Scientific Steering Committee was set up. In 1999 the
then Director-General asked a group of experts (Professor Philip
James, Professor Fritz Kemper and Professor Gérard Pascal)
to produce a report on future arrangements for the provision of
scientific advice in the food safety and public health field (referred
to in our Report as "the James et al Report").
7. Since the Prodi Commission took office, further
organisational changes have occurred, and were still in progress
during this inquiry. Not all of the recommendations in the James
et al Report are being adopted, although the White Paper
says that the report "will be taken into account" in
developing the proposals.
The establishment of the EFA would require a further round of
changes, including the transfer to the EFA of responsibility for
the scientific committees which cover the Authority's field of
8. This Report is the product
of an inquiry by SubCommittee D (Environment, Agriculture,
Public Health and Consumer Protection), the membership of which
is listed in Appendix 1. Professor Philip James, former Director
of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, acted as specialist
9. Having reviewed the White Paper as a whole, the
Sub-Committee decided that it would be right to concentrate on
the EFA proposal, for which a tight consultative deadline had
been set, and to consider how far the proposed Authority would
contribute to the general objectives of the White Paper. Although
the earlier Green Paper was not subjected to detailed scrutiny
by this House, the White Paper notes (in paragraph 7) that
the present proposals reflect extensive consultation and discussion
about improvements to EU food legislation in the light of the
Green Paper; the inquiry therefore did not seek to re-open issues
covered by the previous consultation.
10. Evidence was taken from the persons and organisations
listed in Appendix 2, who were invited to focus their comments
in the first instance on the following questions:
| (i)||How strong is the case for a European Food Authority?
| (ii)||What is the added value of action at Community level?
| (iii) ||What powers should the proposed Authority have?
| (iv)||What relationship should the Authority have with other Community institutions and with national authorities, including the new UK Food Standards Agency?
| (v)||To what extent are the Commission's proposals likely to achieve the stated aims of establishing, through the Authority, a "scientific point of reference for the whole Union", which will "contribute to a high level of consumer health protection, and...help to restore and maintain consumer confidence"?
| (vi)||In what respects will the Commission's "farm to table" legislative action plan contribute most to these aims?
11. In addition, members of the Sub-Committee visited
Brussels for informal discussions with the office of the UK Permanent
Representative to the EU, the Bureau Européen des Unions
de Consommateurs (BEUC), Members of the European Parliament, Commissioner
David Byrne (responsible for Health and Consumer Protection) and
staff of DG SANCO. Although we have reported a number of comments
made by the hosts at those meetings, these do not have the status
of formal evidence. A glossary of acronyms and technical terms
is on page 2 above, before the Contents page.
12. The Committee would like to record its thanks
to the witnesses for their helpful submissions and to Professor
James, Commissioner Byrne and others for providing valuable advice
and assistance to the inquiry.
1 Council Directive 92/59/EEC is the legal basis for
the Rapid Alert System for Food. The system deals with all products
which can be regarded as food, or which are intended to come in
contact with food, and which are placed on the market within the
EU. Where a Member State decides to ban or restrict the marketing
of a product which is considered to carry a serious and immediate
risk to the health and safety of the consumer, it is obliged to
notify the Commission. The Commission then issues a same-day warning
("alert notification") to contact points in all the
Member States. Information about products stopped at the external
borders of the EU may also be transmitted through this system.
Participation of third countries is not formalised, as they fall
outside the scope of the Directive. However, the Commission informs
a third country if it is known that a foodstuff subject to an
alert notification has been exported to that country and also
when a product originating from the country has been the subject
of a notification, so as to allow it to take corrective action.
Paragraph 18 of the White Paper indicates various improvements
which the Commission would like to make to the system. Back
The Commission's target for presenting the legislative proposal,
and in turn the target for adoption, are expected to slip. This
may affect the EFA's commencement date. Back
See footnote to paragraph 3. Back
Paragraph 80 of the White Paper explains that the Commission does
not at present have a comprehensive legal instrument which enables
it to take emergency measures to ban the import or sale of any
types of food or feed, whatever their geographical origin, including
certain processed products originating in EU Member States. The
need for this has been exposed by the recent dioxin crisis in
An acronym for "Direction générale de la santé
et de la protection des consommateurs". Back
Food, animal nutrition (with subcommittee on animal welfare),
veterinary measures relating to public health, plants, cosmetics
and non-food products, medicinal products and medical devices,
and toxicity, ecotoxicity and environment. Back
James, P., Kemper, F. and Pascal, G. A European Food and Public
Health Authority: the future of scientific advice in the EU.
European Commission, DG SANCO, December 1999. Back
See Professor James's oral evidence passim but especially
at QQ 1-5. Back
White Paper, paragraph 116. Back