6 November 1998

Defective food compensation

FARMERS who supply consumers with defective food products could be forced to pay direct compensation under new rules being discussed in Brussels this week.

Euro MPs gave a generally warm welcome to EU Commission proposals to bring primary agricultural goods within the scope of the EUs product liability directive. Currently only processed foods are included, along with the whole range of manufactured goods.

But there was more heated debate on a number of amendments tabled by German MEP and consumer champion, Dagmar Roth-Berendt. In particular, she called for the burden of proof in cases of injury to shift from the consumer to the producer. "Consumers rarely have the financial and technical means required to prove a defect," she said in a report to the parliament. "The producer has far greater resources. It should therefore be sufficient for the injured person to simply prove that the damage had occurred. The producer would then have to produce evidence to the contrary."

But, while that may be the case for large companies, farm lobbyists were quick to point out that this argument did not stack up for farmers.

There was also concern over an amendment seeking to take account of "development risk". Currently, producers are not liable for a defective product if it was not possible to discover the existence of the defect because of the limits of scientific and technical knowledge at the time it was put on the market.

But the BSE crisis had shown the need to take this development risk into account, claimed some MEPs.

As farmers weekly went to press (Wed), the MEPs were still waiting to vote on the directive and the various amendments, which will now pass back to Council for further examination. &#42