6 October 1999
Europe to tighten food laws

By Philip Clarke, Europe Editor

EUROPEAN Commission president Romano Prodi has pledged to launch an “Action Plan for Food Safety” to restore public confidence in food.

The action plan, which will be launched before the end of the year, will set out a clear timetable for tighter food laws and options for a European Food Agency.

“Over the past few years and months, the citizens of Europe have been shocked by a succession of food safety scandals,” Mr Prodi told MEPs in Strasbourg.

“There were occasions when they no longer felt their food was safe to eat.”

Sensationalist journalism was partly to blame for the food scares, but all too often consumers fears were well-founded, he said.

“The entire food-production chain should be closely and rigorously monitored,” said Mr Prodi.

“We need a single, coherent body of legislation. And we badly need to win back public confidence in our food scientists.”

One way to achieve this would be to set up an independent European Food Agency.

Mr Prodi said he had no preconceived ideas about what form this should take, but is considering something along the lines of the US Food and Drugs Administration.

“This would enable action on safety to be taken very rapidly, independent of the intervention of political institutions.”

But whatever the structure of the food agency, its prime objective should be the service of consumers and their health.

“Should any conflict arise between consumers health and producers interests, health must take precedence,” said Mr Prodi.

Most MEPs yesterday welcomed the commissions plans but some said they had considerable concerns about the accountability of a new food agency.

Phillip Whitehead, Euro-MP for the east midlands, said people had a right to know about the factors that affected food quality.

The new body could set a benchmark and play a vital role in reassuring consumers, he said.

German MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt said there was a clear need to bridge the gaps in existing legislation.

Stricter controls were needed on animal feed and a “rapid alert” system to enable official bodies to react quickly in a crisis, she said.