EU fines for food safety failures

25 September 2001

EU fines for food safety failures

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

BRUSSELS is planning to introduce strict fines for countries, such as France and Germany, which fail to properly implement food safety legislation.

Despite having excellent controls in the EU, some member states did not always have the resolve to enforce them, food safety commissioner David Byrne told the Congress of European Agriculture in Belfast on Tuesday (25 September).

“The commission simply does not have the necessary clout to ensure better respect of the legislation in question,” he said.

When it came to financial mismanagement, the commission was fully equipped to deal with it by imposing penalties.

But when it came to abuses of food legislation, the best the commission could do was to initiate legal proceedings.

“That is a long and cumbersome process and too slow and ineffective in delivering results.”

Consumers were right to ask if the commission had got the balance right.

The issue would be considered in forthcoming proposals on controls on veterinary and food safety legislation, Mr Byrne said.

“We would prefer to find solutions by negotiation and consent. But if our efforts do not succeed, we have the responsibility to consider more drastic action.

“One which comes to mind is financial penalties.”

His comments were seen as a swipe at the French who the commission is pursuing through the European court in respect of its ban on British beef.

Following a favourable opinion by the advocate general last week, the full court is set to declare the French action illegal by the end of the year.

But only if France continues with its ban could the commission take a second case to court in search of financial penalties.

Mr Byrnes comments were welcomed by farmers leaders. “The current process is far too long-winded,” said NFU deputy president, Tim Bennett.

“If there is a rule, then there must be sanctions for those who break it.”

As well as the French case, he pointed to the persistent failures of the Netherlands and Germany to remove specified risk materials from cattle.

“What is important is that the commissioner has recognised the weakness. We need the commission to have stronger teeth.”

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