Speaking this week at the Informal Agriculture Council in Nyborg, Denmark, David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said that innovation in the farming and food sector is a vital issue to which Europe will need to devote significant attention and energy in the coming years.
In relation to food safety, tracability, food quality, new products and animal welfare Byrne emphasised the importance of an increase in interaction between enterprise, research and consumer policies.
Commissioner Byrne said: "European consumers expect the food they eat to be safe and of high quality. They value variety of choice. They also expect it to be produced in accordance with good farming practices with respect for the environment and for the welfare of animals. They want to be informed, in a precise and accurate manner, about the composition, nutritional value, durability, origin and, in certain cases, the method of production of the food offered to them."
Every European citizen will appreciate the above words by Byrne provided that the phrases are credible. Earlier this week FoodNavigator.com reported on the developments for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a crucial piece of new food safety legislation for Europe. The EFSA is behind schedule, without an Executive Director and as yet without a permanent base to house it. It would appear that words must be translated into action.
On the controversial topic of biotechnology Byrne said that biotechnology had the potential to offer huge possibilities for future innovation in terms of cheaper, safer and more cost-effective production. He maintained that the Commission proposals for traceability and labelling of GM-food and GM-feed, viewed by a chunk of food manufacturers as draconian, provide a sound and balanced platform on which to build.
"It is important that innovation in the biotech field is not impeded by emotional reactions and apprehension based on inadequate or biased information. There can, however, be no question of compromising safety public health or the environment", said Byrne. However, he went on to warn that there was no point talking about innovation in the abstract if progress was not made on starting new GMO authorisations and ending the so-called moratorium.
Byrne also emphasised that he believed that while politicians look to future innovation, European consumers at the same time are very sensitive to the 'extraordinarily fine and diverse European food culture and the important role that traditional food plays.' He maintained that the recast of the European food hygiene legislation provides some flexibility at a national level to accommodate traditional food enterprises, with the provision that food hygiene must not be compromised.