EU food regs could be hijacked by politics, warns report

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European parliament, European commission, European union

New powers that will enable the European Parliament (EP) to block
Commission decisions will have serious implications for the food
industry, warns a USDA study.

According to a new GAIN report from the USDA foreign agricultural service, Council Decision 2006/512/EC introduces a new 'supervisory phase' to the EU's decision-making process, which gives the EP blocking powers.

This says the report, will make the EU decision-making process highly politicised. Reaching agreement on sensitive issues such as new GM varieties or new health claims on food labels will be a long and difficult process.

This could frustrate food manufacturers both within and outside the bloc. Many US commentators argue that EU's regulatory framework is too often based not on science but politics.

At the recent IFT conference in Orlando for example, Francis Smith from the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington DC said that the EU's approach to GM food regulation has little theoretical basis, and panders to the fears and prejudices of its citizens.

"There is little theoretical basis for this approach,"​ she said.

These new powers could heighten these frustrations.

At present, the EP only has a 'right of scrutiny' for draft implementing measures. This right gives the EP a one-month delay to object to the proposed measure if it believes that the Commission has exceeded its implementing powers.

The Commission can adopt the measures only after expiration of this delay.

But Council Decision 2006/512/EC places the EP on equal footing with the Council in the comitology procedure. Comitology refers to the committee procedure to adopt measures needed for the implementation of EU laws.

This means that draft implementation measures under co-decision must be submitted to both the Council and the EP, and for the first time, the EP will be able to block any of the proposed measures.

Both the Council and the EP may oppose the measures within a one-month time-limit. In the event of opposition, the Commission must repeal the measure. However, when justified on health protection, safety or environmental grounds, the measure may remain in force until the Council and EP approve an amended or new Commission proposal.

The GAIN report says that the slow and cumbersome EU decision-making process will become even slower, and that reaching agreement on sensitive issues such as GM will be a difficult process.

Under the new regulatory procedure, the EP will also be able to block draft implementation measures, and the USDA warns that in many instances, the EP's approach may be a political one and not one that takes into account the objective scientific evaluations.

The USDA is concerned in particular with decisions on new GM varieties, the use of antimicrobial treatments (AMTs), new health claims on food labels or maximum levels of vitamins in fortified foods.

Existing legislation adopted under the co-decision procedure will be adapted to the new regulatory procedure with scrutiny by the end of 2007.

Related topics: Policy

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