Intended for healthcare professionals


Prodi proposes food agency for the EU

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 16 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1025
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    The new European Commission has placed food safety at the top of its political agenda. Within weeks of being voted into office, the commission's president, Romano Prodi, has begun canvassing the idea of establishing an independent food agency for the European Union.

    He announced to MEPs in early October that the commission would present a white paper on food safety before the end of the year. This would contain an action plan setting out a clear timetable for action over the next three years.

    “Our aim is a fundamental review of food law, with all commission proposals to be put forward before the end of 2000. On this basis, we intend to establish a coherent and up to date body of food legislation by 2002,” he said in a European parliament public debate on food safety.

    The white paper would be accompanied by a separate document on the precautionary principle. This concept allows for provisional safety measures to be taken where scientific information is incomplete and there are still safety concerns. Although the principle is closely followed in the European Union, the United States adopts a less rigid approach, and the differences have led to high profile transatlantic trade disputes.

    The political importance being given to food safety comes against a background of intense public debate over the properties of genetically modified food and a series of scandals involving animal feed. These have ranged from the contamination of Belgian food by dioxins to the use of treated sewage sludge in feed in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

    Mr Prodi stressed that to win back public confidence, the scientists who advise the European Commission should be seen to be totally independent from policymakers. This, he suggested, could be achieved by creating a European Food Agency—several national governments have already taken similar steps in their own countries.

    But he displayed an open mind on whether this should be based on the lines of the US Food and Drug Administration. This has substantial powers and can intervene without prior political approval. Another model could be the London based European Medicines Evaluation Agency.

    The white paper will aim to establish a single, coherent body of legislation “from farm to fork,” emphasising the need to tighten up the food inspection system and modernising legislation so that this is in line with advancing scientific knowledge, new production techniques, and the discovery of new health hazards.

    Photo caption:A clear relation exists between the numbers of guns in a society and the numbers of deaths from use of firearms, according to David Meddings, an epidemiologist with the Red Cross in Geneva. Using data collected by Professor Wendy Cukier of Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto, Mr Meddings produced the graph above. Speaking at a recent BMA conference on wounds, weapons, and doctors, he said that the widespread availability of light weapons after wars and other conflicts leads to increased injuries from violence Development aid might need to be spent on enforcing disarmament to improve security, he added.

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