17 January 2001
Winberg promises new emphasis

By Philip Clarke

FOOD safety and animal welfare will take centre stage during the six month Swedish presidency of the EU, farm minister Margareta Winberg promised this week.

In London to visit her UK counterpart, Nick Brown, she said that when Sweden joined the EU in 1995, farm council discussions had all been from the producers perceptive.

But today the consumers perspective was just as important, as was nature and the environment.

We like this very much as it exactly what we have been trying to do in Sweden for decades, she said.

Following the Food Safety White Paper, the Swedes were determined to see the new European Food Authority agreed by the end of their six-month term, she said.

But the subject of BSE was never going to be far away. Weve not had any cases in Sweden yet, she said. But you can never guarantee anything.

So far we have tested about 400 over-30-month animals, and they have all come back clearly negative.

Sweden is one of just three countries that do not have to test all over-30-month animals before the beef can enter the human food chain, owing to its BSE-free status.

Mrs Winberg was critical of those member states that have allowed BSE to become a political football. This had heightened consumer fears.

In Sweden we have, with one exception, kept the political parties together.

She also hit out at countries with poor animal welfare records. A lot of people are very upset by the way some people in some countries treat their animals, said Mrs Winberg.

As such, the Swedes will be holding an international conference in Stockholm in May, to discuss ways of improving livestock environments and the ethics of animal husbandry.

Environmental issues would also have a higher profile under the Swedish presidency.

To this end, she welcomed the recent appointment of Runate Kunast, the radical Green, as the new German farm minister.

They had much in common and there was an open invitation for her to join the Capri group of pro-reform member states — Sweden, the UK, Denmark and Italy.