THE European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection told the Ulster Farmers' Union annual meeting that everyone within the European Union had to work together to ensure high consumer's demands and expectations were met.
David Byrne said food safety was a top priority for the Commission and for Europe's citizens. But confidence had been shaken by a succession of crisis, including BSE, dioxin and sludge, which had done considerable damage to the image of the community.
"There have been no winners in this process. Farmers and food industry have paid a heavy price. I fully accept that in many respects food has never been safer.
"But the consumer's demands and expectations have never been higher. We have to work together to ensure that these demands and expectations can be met," he said.
Mr Byrne said he believed the EU was now much better equipped to give food safety the priority it deserved. The legal situation had changed with the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty.
It had greatly increased the Community's powers in the field of public health.
The Commissioner said that all new proposals in the veterinary and phytosanitary areas fell within the public health provision of the Treaty, which contrasted with past situations when such proposals were considered under the agricultural provisions of the Treaty.
"The message is clear. Public health considerations will be the key determinant when decisions on safety are taken in the future," he added.
Mr Byrne said there had been important institutional changes which reflected the priority of food safety. A new Directorate General had been established with the specific brief of Public Health and Consumer Protection.
"I am the Commissioner responsible for this Directorate General. This is the first time an individual Commissioner has been charged with specific responsibility for this important area," he told the meeting.
Mr Byrne said there was a new political commitment to food safety. President Prodi had identified it as a priority on several occasions. He said the European Parliament has repeatedly shown its commitment to the issue.
And, perhaps most important of all, he said, the public had made clear that it expects action from policymakers at the European level to ensure that food is safe.
The Commissioner said that the EU had taken firm action to protect consumers' interests and the Commission had placed food safety as a top priority and adopted earlier this year a White Paper on Food Safety. …