Food industry voices concerns over accession

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Related tags: Eu food, European union, Eu

As the Commission this week earmarked a €6 million rural support
package for accession states, Europe's food industry body has
warned the Irish presidency that the legal and economic climate
must be right to encourage the burgeoning food industry.

Pushing the position of Europe's €600 billion food industry, Jean Martin, president of the CIAA (Confederation of food and drink industries in Europe), told Irish ministers that it was "vital that the EU Presidency intensifies efforts to create the necessary conditions for the EU food and drink industry to reinforce its competitiveness, develop its innovation capabilities and take full advantage of the expected growth"​.

Ireland, holding the six month EU Presidency mantle, has the challenging - and some might say unenviable task - of seeing Europe through the historical political enlargement process.

Representing the concerns of more than 26,000 companies and 3 million employees, a smooth, clear and watertight transition to 25 Member States is high on the agenda for the CIAA president.

"Efforts to implement EU food legislation on the ground must continue after 1 May [the accession date]"​ said Martin.

With the US currently living through the impact of its first case of mad cow disease, this comes as a warning that global food safety measures must continue as a top priority.

Inspired by food safety scandals in the late 1980s - notably mad cow disease in the UK - European Commissioner David Byrne built a tough new framework for food safety issues in the form of the White Paper on Food Safety in 2000.

A raft of new rules designed to protect the consumer have also been passed, including tough new legislation on GMOs to be enforced in April.

So when Martin alludes to food legislation, food safety measures are up there at the top of the agenda.

For Raymond O' Rourke, a food lawyer at the Dublin-based firm Mason Hayes & Curran, the first conflicts between the accession countries and EU after enlargement next May will be over food safety.

"The EU food regulatory regime is badly prepared for the accession of 10 new Member States next May, not because these countries have failed to transpose all the mandatory EU food laws into their own national law, but because the EU has neglected to deal comprehensively with the fall-out of the UK French beef war case [Commission v. France case C-1/00] last year,"​ said O'Rourke recently, referring to the European Court ruling that France's refusal - following mad cow issue - to sell British beef was contrary to EU law.

He calls France's move, at the last moment in October 2002, to cede and permit UK beef to be sold on the French market a "travesty for the principles of free movement of goods enshrined in the EU Treaty."

Is this a bad omen for political enlargement and the harmonisation of food safety rules? Will Member States obey the rules? Or flout them fearing no repercussions? For O'Rourke, action is needed immediately in the discussions on reforms to the EU institutions and treaties "so as to ensure that a system is put in place whereby major 'political' disputes involving the free movement of foodstuffs/goods can be dealt with expeditiously by the European Court".

This week the Commission signed off €5.76 billion for the rural development for the new Member States. With a slice of the pie allocated to food quality, Martin and colleagues will be close watching the implementation of the funds.

Related topics: Market Trends

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