United Kingdom Government's response to
the European Commission's White Paper on Food SafetyEuropean
1. We welcome the opportunity to participate
in the debate on food safety and to comment on the proposal to
create a European Food Authority. Protection of consumer health
is of paragraphmount importance and we believe it is necessary
to take steps to re-establish public confidence in EU food policy.
2. The United Kingdom has recently established
a national Food Standards Agency to protect public health and
safeguard the interests of consumers in relation to the sale and
consumption of food. The UK Agency encompasses all aspects of
food safety and standards and has three core values: to put the
consumer first; be open and accessible and be an independent voice.
Agency staff are accountable to a Board rather than directly to
Ministers and the Agency is legally required to be open about
the way it works, to base its assessment of food safety issues
on the best available science and to consult widely before taking
action or making recommendations to Government.
3. At European level, we see a need to rationalise
Commission efforts and adopt a more coherent and effective approach
to food safety. We therefore support the establishment of a European
Food Authority (EUFA) and would hope that it will encompass as
much as possible of the approaches taken by the UK Government
to protect public health and the interests of consumers.
4. We are, therefore, concerned that the
proposals for a EUFA set out in the White Paper do not fully address
the need to integrate the processes of risk assessment, risk management
and risk communication.
5. The key attributes of such a body must
be scientific excellence, openness, independence of commercial
interests and a determination to act in the interests of consumers.
The responsibilities and resources assigned to it must enable
it to command the respect of consumers, industry and national
authorities. In particular:
We agree that there is no need to
change the Treaty.
Responsibility for legislation should
remain with Commission/Council/European Parliament under established
The closest possible linkage must
be established between risk assessment, risk management (identification
of appropriate regulatory action) and risk communication.
The EUFA should be responsible for
communicating a single coherent message on both risk assessment
and risk management.
An obligation should be placed on
the Commission to respond in a timely way to any recommendations
of the EUFA.
A Consultative Committee of the heads
of National Agencies should be established to help the EUFA in
Given the importance of close functional
links between risk assessment, management, communication and legislation,
there would be major benefits in locating the EUFA in a central
More consideration needs to be given
to effective arrangements for crisis management.
6. The White Paper proposes an "independent"
body, "supported" by the Commission and with a "high
level of accountability to the European institutions and citizens".
We await more detailed Commission proposals on the status and
accountability of the new body, but would not wish it to be unduly
influenced by any one EU Institution. We therefore propose that
to be clearly seen to be widely accountable it should report annually
to the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament as
well as making such reports publicly available.
7. We were disappointed by the narrow remit
proposed for the EUFA. The UK FSA has a comprehensive role, encompassing
food safety, standards, labelling and nutrition. We consider that
the remit of the EUFA should at least be broadened to include
food labelling. It should also have a role in the control of health
claims and "functional foods".
8. However, in other ways the proposed remit
is rather broader than we believe to be appropriate. It is important
that the Authority confines itself to issues which affect food
safety, including the provisions of information to consumers on
potential health risks. This is set out very clearly in the White
Paper which states that "the principal objective of a European
Food Authority will be to contribute to a high level of consumer
health protection in the areas of food safety, through which consumer
confidence can be restored and maintained". We were surprised
therefore to see that it was proposed that the Authority should
cover such matters as animal welfare, environmental protection
and consumer expectations of quality, which are not directly related
to health protection. In our view the remit of the Authority should
not extend into such areas.
9. On nutrition, the EUFA could become a
source of authoritative scientific advice and encourage co-operation
among Member States. Some issues require action at Community levelwe
have been pressing the Commission to bring forward proposals to
make nutrition labelling mandatory, to help people make informed
choices about the food they buy. But the EUFA should not become
directly involved in healthy eating campaigns. Such issues are
best dealt with at national or local level where advice on nutrition
can be tailored to the cultural and dietary conditions in each
MS and account can be taken of people's varying needs and circumstances.
10. Effective risk analysis is the key to
sound food safety decisions. The White Paper recognises the three
components: risk assessment (scientific evaluation), risk management
(regulation) and risk communication, but proposes confining the
EUFA's role to risk assessment and communication only.
11. While we see no grounds for changing
the responsibility for legislation, which should remain with the
existing EU Institutions to maintain democratic accountability,
we consider the implied division of the official/technical-level
functions of risk assessment and risk management between the EUFA
and the Commission is the least satisfactory aspect of the proposals.
12. This has caused concern to both consumer
groups and industry in the UK. Consumers are concerned that a
body responsible only for providing scientific advice, will have
inadequate influence on management decisions. The food industry
has questioned the need for such an agency and suggested that
rationalisation of existing Commission services might be a better
starting point. It is concerned that purely scientific advice
emanating from a body with no responsibility for translating it
into practical management solutions will be incomplete and excessively
13. We believe that there has to be an effective
interaction between risk assessment, risk communication and risk
management. If these functions are split, as in the Commission's
model, between different bodies it will be essential for co-ordination
mechanisms to be put in place to ensure a coherent approach. In
the UK the relationship between the Food Standards Agency and
other Departments is set out in published concordats and working
level agreements. A similar arrangement could be adopted for the
14. We believe the EUFA should be able to
identify practical solutions and options and make recommendations
for action, including the need for legislation. The EUFA could
then respond to stakeholder concerns in a way that was seen to
be independent of the Commission. The Commission might also be
placed under an obligation to respond to EUFA's recommendations
within a set time and explain the action they proposed taking.
15. If public confidence is to be maintained,
coherent communication from both risk assessors and regulators
is of fundamental importance, particularly in an emergency. Giving
responsibility for risk assessment and communication to the EUFA,
while the Commission continues to be responsible for risk management
(identification of regulatory options and formulation of legislative
proposals), with a separagraphte communication role of its own,
will require radical new procedures and disciplines if the risk
of conflicting messages is to be avoided. We consider that the
EUFA should be responsible for communicating a single coherent
message on both risk assessment and risk management.
16. The EUFA will need to network constructively
with national food agencies and authorities so as to make the
most effective use of the expertise available within the Member
States. It will also need a strategy for dealing with disagreements
between the national bodies. This will need to encompass early
identification of potential problems followed by an open and constructive
discussion by all parties, based on the best available scientific
information and analysis. We support the setting up of a consultative
committee of the heads of the national agencies to assist the
EUFA in its work. With a view to enlargement, it may also be sensible
to draw in observers from the applicant countries at an early
17. It will not be feasible for the EUFA
to match the range and quality of research currently undertaken
in the Member States. If a separagraphte budget is made available
for an independent EUFA programme, all work must be subject to
genuine competitive tendering. It should also draw on and co-ordinate
with research already underway or which has been carried out by
18. While enforcement and control remain
the responsibility of Member States, the Commission intend to
take steps to harmonise criteria for national controls. We will
comment once further details are known. Since the Food and Veterinary
Office (FVO) currently monitors and reports on Member States enforcement
of legislation, clear lines of communication and responsibility
with the EUFA will be needed to facilitate rapid feedback and
assessment of any emerging health concerns.
19. The method of working may depend on
the role and size of the EUFA. A small, scientific body would
find it difficult to deal directly with all outside stakeholders
in the Member States and there may have to be some constraints
on the ability of such a body to act on its own initiative. On
the other hand, a larger body with a wider management role would
need to enter into dialogue with Member States and stakeholders.
A body that was not open and accessible would do little to reassure
the public. However, to make the EUFA's work programme manageable,
formal requests for advice will probably still need to be channelled
through the Commission or the Consultative Committee.
20. Rapid risk assessment and safeguard
actions are essential in an emergency. Dividing responsibility
for risk assessment and risk management between different EU bodies
will make it difficult to achieve swift and co-ordinated Community
action. Separagraphte streams of communication from the Member
States (on their own safeguard measures); the EUFA (on scientific
assessment); and the Commission (on proposed "politically-based"
action) could increase public anxiety and confusion. We believe
this problem requires considerably more consideration.
21. Commission officials have spoken of
a budget of 100m
for the EUFA. It is not clear if this is the
total, or the additional cost. Most of the proposed functions
of the EUFA are already performed elsewhere within the EU framework
and we must be careful to avoid duplication of effort.