Euro food agency launch slated for 2002

Mark A. DeSorbo

BRUSSELS—The outbreak of a virulent livestock ailment, foot-and-mouth disease, in addition to the civil unrest brought on by mad cow disease has forced the European Union (EU) to increase food safety efforts and target early 2002 for the establishment of an agency similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to a recent report to the EU Council of Ministers, the Swedish Presidency to the Farm Council also stressed a sense of immediacy in establishing the agency, deemed the European Food Authority, in order to meet the goals of revamping existing rules applied by EU nations to ensure safe foods and to regain public confidence in the European food industry.

To date, more than 80,000 hoofed animals in Britain alone have been earmarked for slaughter because of foot-and-mouth disease, while 100 Europeans have died from the brain-debilitating mad cow disease.

“Consumer confidence and beef consumption have both fallen sharply,” David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said in a recent speech.

In addition, the Swedish Presidency hopes to acquire a preliminary political decision on the creation of the food authority at the June 19 Farm Council meeting.

Meanwhile, Europe has not approached the United States for guidance in establishing the U.S.-identical agency, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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More than 80,000 hoofed animals in Britain, namely cows, sheep and pigs, have been put on a proverbial deathrow because of more than 100 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. The outbreaks have only added to numerous mad cow scares, which have led to a food safety crisis throughout Europe.

“We are not aware of any formal request from the European Union, says FSIS spokesperson Catherine Warmerdam, adding that the United States would not intervene unless it was asked.

The Swedish Presidency report also noted that proposed legislation is moving forward, with most member states endorsing the central mission of providing scientific and technical support to politicians and communities.

“I remain convinced that the best way and only way out of this crisis is for all member states to accept that there is a community framework of measures which ensures that beef is safe,” Byrne says. “That framework is now in place.”

A draft of the proposed legislation is accessible on the EU Web site, The 63-page document is filled with articles addressing food and feed safety requirements, including the responsibilities of merchants and restauranteurs, the mission and organization of the EFA and crisis management.

Disagreements on additional missions have materialized, the Swedish Presidency report indicates. Those debates include the future of a proposed mandate to oversee animal welfare and plant health, as well as questions concerning genetically modified organisms. Some members also feel that the authority should focus on areas that have a direct connection to public health only.

Debates also continue over several other subjects, including an early-warning system for food and animal feed; procedures for requesting scientific opinions; what role the authority will have where scientific opinions differ; and the location of the authority's headquarters.

“It is now time for member states, community institutions, farmers and the food industry to concentrate on the full implementation of these measures,” Byrne says. “I am convinced if we can do this, that this crisis can eventually become a bad memory.”


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