At the meeting of the Consumer Committee in Brussels held on September 21, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, Franz Fischler supported consumers' strong interest in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
"The CAP is a policy area where consumers want to be fully involved and heard," Franz Fischler stated.
"Consumers want a sustainable agriculture that provides them with a choice of safe and nutritious food at reasonable prices; the kind of agriculture that respects the environment, and makes an effective contribution to rural development. In their search for food safety, food quality and choice the Commission and consumers should pursue the same course and steer towards the same goals."
This meeting of the Consumer Committee is part of a series of initiatives launched by Commissioners Franz Fischler and David Byrne (Health and Consumer Protection) to openly discuss the future of food policy and production with society, including round table discussions in seven Member States so far.
"Everybody has strong views on where we have to go in food production and agriculture in the future and we cannot ignore that the discussion on food safety and food quality touches on the basic issues of our lives. It raises the question of what we eat every day," Commissioner Fischler said.
Only a structured debate, which is the first reason for these roundtable discussions, should lead to a fruitful outcome. This debate should also contribute to a better understanding of food production.
According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, whilst 90 per cent of the Europeans consider agriculture important, only 50 per cent have heard about a Common Agricultural Policy.
Consumers today not only expect food that they can afford but, more than ever, they care about the quality of their food. Commissioner Fischler also stressed the dualistic character of food quality. Even if zero risk does not exist, food safety remains the non-negotiable element of food quality.
"Food safety must never be subject to bargaining. We should always try to achieve a maximum of safety in our food production. I believe that the White Paper on Food Safety that the Commission has issued in January 2000 is an excellent basis for progress in this field," Mr Fischler added.
The other aspect of food quality concerns consumers' individual needs and interests. Diversity is important because consumers have different desires, tastes and budgets.
"A discussion on which way of production is better, or whether organic food is preferable to conventional food, is pointless. Guided and protected by a labelling system that clearly shows the content of products, the choice of the products itself should be left to the consumer. A European legal framework should make it possible for the consumer to choose," Fischler stressed.
Commissioner Fischler further addressed the question of how to include these issues in the future agricultural policy and how the CAP could meet the new demands of society. In addition, next year's review of Agenda 2000 will provide the opportunity to include in the policy some of the concerns to make agriculture more sustainable. "Sustainable agriculture should try to include the concerns of society into the instruments that we have. We should not let ourselves be brought to a standstill but rather look at the future of a CAP, that can live up to consumers' expectations," Mr Fischler concluded.