Meeting in Brussels this week under the umbrella of the Agriculture Council, European agriculture ministers hammered out the latest issues affecting agriculture in Europe. Food safety and CAP reform headlined the event.
First on the food safety agenda was BSE. European Commissioner David Byrne informed the Council on his proposal to prolong certain transitional measures - for example, the feed ban - in place to protect the consumer from any BSE risk.
Byrne maintained that the two-year extension will enable the Commission to continue its efforts to reach an agreement at an international level on the determination of BSE status of a country. In order to clarify the legal situation the Commission is considering introducing the current provisions into the TSE Regulation, thereby effectively ending the transitional character of the feed ban.
According to Byrne, more than 10 million tests were carried out on cattle last year, marking an increase of 20 per cent compared to 2001. Despite the increased testing, the total number of cases remained stable and the ratio of positive cases found in tested animals dropped by 22 per cent.
On the subject of the illegal use of nitrofurans in poultry in Portugal, the Portuguese Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Armando Sevinate Pinto explained the action plan implemented by Portugal. The matter was discussed last week in a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, and technical experts will again consider it this week at a further meeting of the Standing Committee.
Byrne commented :"Clearly, the current situation in Portugal demonstrates that our rigorous residue monitoring system is working and that improved detection and testing methods are contributing to our objectives of safe food. I would like to ensure that all Member States are actively operating in monitoring for anti-microbial residues."
On the subject of CAP reform, Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler stressed that the reform process must be completed fully in order to offer EU grain growers long term solid and sustainable perspectives.
"Our goals remain unchanged. The formation of our prices needs to be flexible enough for EU cereals to price themselves into both internal and external markets." said Fischler
The only way to avoid this distortion is to increase the difference between the intervention price and market prices in normal years, by reducing the level of the intervention price by 5 per cent. We must allow intervention to play its proper role as a safety net but we should not allow it to substitute the normal role of the market in setting price levels." Turning to milk, Fischler explained to the Council ministers that the viability of the EU milk sector was threatened by the fact that the price paid to producers, although not high, was still on average about 30 per cent higher than an equivalent world market price.
In a bid to improve competitivity, Fischler stressed: "Our proposal is to add two additional steps of price reduction and to advance implementation by one year.
This is a serious effort to make the sector more competitive by reducing prices against a reasonable compensation and by prolonging the quota to allow an orderly restructuring."