FORUM – Food and the Environment: a long, hot autumn in Europe

26 Oct 2001

Over the next few days, the European Parliament and the Council of European Environment and Agriculture Ministers will be discussing dossiers on food safety, food hygiene and the traceability and labeling of transgenic foods, not to mention genetically modified human food and animal feed. These dossiers are certain to cause conflict. Here’s why
The European Parliament and the Council hold very distant positions on the so-called ‘food safety package’, the regulatory proposal laying down the general prerequisites for food legislation in the future and instituting the European Food Authority.
The common position adopted by the Council on June 28 last fails to take into consideration the majority of the 200 or so amendments to the Commission’s proposal passed by the Parliament in the course of the first reading. These amendments improve the proposal greatly in terms both of food safety and of food quality. On November 5 next, the Parliament’s Environment and Health Commission will discuss the new compromise proposal drawn up by the European Commission, which has acknowledged the Parliament’s emendments on safety, but not those on the quality of food products. The virtuous lobby of Slow Food and Legambiente (the Italian environmental protection association) is already hard at work to make the Parliament stand by the position it assumed at the first reading, despite strong pressure from the European food industry.

The ‘food hygiene package’ is also being discussed in Parliament and is expected to be passed at its first reading in plenary session next December. The most controversial point is the application of the principle of flexibility for small firms and the processing of traditional products. Legambiente and Slow Food have already drawn up amendments to safeguard typical and quality products through national provisions that take into account specific production and conservation methods without jeopardizing hygiene objectives. In this case too we shall have to stand up to the fierce food industry lobby, which intends to use the alibi of hygiene to penalize traditional and typical products on the European market.
On Monday October 29, the Environment Council will start to discuss the proposal for the regulation of the traceability and labeling of GMOs. In this case, the point most at stake will be the Commission’s proposal to allow for ‘accidental contamination’ of up to 1% of GMOs that, albeit unauthorized, have passed EC scientific examination. This proposal – an amendment to new directive 2001/18 on the release of GMOs into the environment – is a sellout to pressure from America and the biotech lobby and needs to be forcefully rejected. Italy has to play a leading role in the in-Council discussion, since to date it has been one of the countries that have kept the moratorium alive. For our part, we pledge to use every means possible to make sure that the Council and Parliament confirm the decision adopted last February with the adoption of new directive 2001/18, and that the moratorium is confirmed until clear, rigorous legislation is approved on traceability, labeling and liability in the event of damage to the environment, health and farmers.
The autumn is obviously going to be long and hot, but the Legambiente-Slow Food lobby is ready to tackle any problem that may arise.

Mauro Albrizio directs the Slow Food-Legambiente Office in Brussels

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