12 January 2000
Europe unveils food safety agency plan

By Philip Clarke

PLANS have been unveiled for a new European Food Authority, forming the centrepiece of the European Unions long-awaited food safety White Paper.

Consumer affairs commissioner David Byrne unveiled what he termed “radical” and “far-reaching” proposals in Brussels on Wednesday (12 January).

The new authority, expected to be up and running by 2002, would ensure that Europe has the highest possible food safety standards, he said.

Exactly what form the new body will take remains to be seen. But it is clear it will not have the same teeth enjoyed by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“A transfer of regulatory powers to an independent authority could lead to an unwarranted dilution of democratic accountability,” says the White Paper.

Instead, the authoritys two main roles will be to advise the existing EU institutions and to communicate with consumers.

Actual decision-making on food safety issues will remain with the European commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.

Those three bodies will continue to take account of social and ethical issues, as well as the science, related to food matters.

But the aim is that the EFA will eventually become the automatic first port of call when scientific information is sought or when problems have been identified.

It will also liase with existing national food standards agencies, and will operate a “rapid alert” system to deal with food scares.

One UK official in Brussels summed up the generally positive reaction to the unveiling of the commissions plans.

“Anything which bolsters public confidence in science-based decision-making has to be welcomed,” he said.