Food in the EU: more than safety requirement

Thoughts on the ConferenceFrom Agricultural to Food Law: The New Scenario”, September, 21 & 22, 2012, Sevilla (Spain)

Juanjuan SUN

This year, the EU is celebrating the 50th birthday of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). As the first common policy put into effect in 1962, the CAP was aimed to increase agricultural productivity, ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, and reasonable prices of the suppliers when they reach the consumers (Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome of 1957). When the issue of food shortage became rather an issue of oversupply and the pressure on budget and environmental derogations grew, the priorities of the CAP were reformulated, successively in the 1992 reform, the Agenda 2000, the 2003 reform, the simplification of the CAP and the 2008 health check. As a result, in addition to the first pillar in the form of price support, the CAP has also put rural development as the second pillar, in order to help farmers to diversify and improve their product marketing. Nowadays, the CAP is looking for a new direction after the year 2013 in order to respond to the economic, environmental and territorial challenges. As far as food is concerned, the new CAP will continue to contribute to ensure food security, the challenges here including the need to double world food production by 2050 to cater for population growth facing climate change, the necessity for improvement of food quality for fierce competition on international markets and the guarantee of food safety for public, animal and plant health.

As regards to food security, the probability of food shortages in the EU is minimal. However, the volatility of food prices in the recent years as well as the challenges on the food production posed by climate changes still call for precautionary measures. Therefore, food security still remains a key theme for the post-2013 CAP.

As regards to food quality, it can contribute to increasing not only the farmer’s income, but also agro-food’s comparative advantages. Therefore, the EU has engaged in food quality regulation by harmonizing the quality signs with regard to protected geographical indications (PGI), protected designations of origin (PDO), and the traditional specialties guaranteed (TSG). Besides, a quality package was proposed in 2010 to overhaul agricultural product quality policy.[1] Comprising a new agricultural product quality schemes regulation, a new general base-line marketing standard, and new guidelines for best practice on voluntary certification schemes and on the labeling of products using PDO-PGI ingredients, the quality package is a new policy for quality regulation at the EU level. [2] However, the harmonization in this aspect is more difficult than food safety regulation since the Member States have different quality regulatory systems, as in the case of geographical indications where the sui generis system creates a lot of conflicts between DOP/PGI and brands. [3]Finally, the great majority of food quality schemes operating in the EU are managed by private operators even though the quality and safety control should be a public prerogative.[4]

As regards to food safety, the EU already celebrated the 50th birthday of food safety regulation in 2007. As concluded by Markos Kyprianou, the EU food safety policy has evolved and adapted in line with the changes in the way of food production, food consumption, as well as the new products and new competition resulting from globalization. Currently, the legislative framework on food safety regulation is introduced with the establishment of the General Food Law (Regulation 2002/178), which has laid down the general principles and requirements with regard to food business as well as feed business. With the following subordinate legislations, especially the hygiene regulation and official control regulation, a multiple-level food control system has been introduced in the EU, including the self-regulation of food operator based on the HACCP system, official control implemented by the Member States to ensure the food operator’s compliance, and audit at the EU level through the Food and Veterinary Office to ensure the equivalence of the official control.

If such an arrangement has centralized to a certain degree the food safety regulation at the EU level, however, it also gives rise to new legal problems. For example, as far as regulating information is concerned, the new system of Rapid Alert gives rise to questions such as who should be responsible for the consequences of such an alert. Indeed, if it can contribute to joint efforts on food risk prevention or control, it can also create important economic losses. For example, in the case of the Spanish cucumbers of 2011, where it was claimed that cucumbers were the source of the E.coli outbreak, the food operators suffered a great economic loss though it was later proved that it was a false alert. Unfortunately, there is still no legal framework for the regulation of information, especially the compensation of affected food operators. [5]

Moreover, it is important to point out a paradox in the food law requirement. [6]According to the General Food Law, food means “any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonable expected to be ingested by humans” (Article 2). It has however excluded live animals unless they are prepared for placing on the market for human consumption and plants prior to harvesting. As a matter of fact, however, the management of live animals and the cultivation of plants prior to harvest are stages in the food production, which means that farmers have to comply with the requirements provided by the General Food Law on the public, animal, plant health. At this point, the mechanism of Cross Compliance has been introduced under the CAP in 2003. Depending on the severity of the infringement on the Statutory Management Requirements relating to public, animal and plant health, to animal welfare and to the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions, farmers who infringe the law can be sanctioned and the EU may decrease the support it provides them with.

Given that the CAP after 2013 is still under discussion, it is still unknown whether it will affect the food security, food quality and food safety regulation. Yet, with the purpose to promote a more competitive and sustainable agriculture and dynamic rural areas, it is sure that the EU’s food policy and food regulation are to give food safety, food security and food quality an determining role.

[1] Presentation: M. López Benítez, The role of quality regulation in the creation of food law.

[2] Presentation: D. Ciobanu,The case law of the European Union Court on European Food Qualtiy; G. Bocedi, Judicial protection of quality in the case of Parmigiano Reggiano.

[3] Presentation: A. Martinez Gutierrez, the conflict between brands and DOP/IG.

[4] Presentation: J. L. García Melgarejo, Role of certification of organic farming: public and private standards; G. Liberatore, The case of Italy; J. A. Pavón, The case of Spain; F. Gravier, The case of France.

[5] Presentation: V.R. Fuentes, Legal problems arising out of the food alert system in Spain and Europe.

[6] Presentation: M. Erhart, Quality regulation under the new CAP.


A propos sunjuanjuan

Doctorante - Programme Lascaux
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Un commentaire pour Food in the EU: more than safety requirement

  1. Donald Rennie dit :

    This is an excellent article by Sun Juanjuan but there are two aspects on which i would beg to offer an alternative opinion.

    The first is that the article states that « the probability of food shortages in the EU is minimal ». A considerable proportion of the EU’s food is imported from other countries. There are various factors which lead me to believe that food security in Europe is not something that can be taken for granted.

    This year in the United Kingdom there has been excessive rain and cold temperatures. as a result the yield of crops has declined sharply and young animals have not thrived. One farmer I know has told me that his production of potatoes has been less than half of what he was expecting.

    A couple of years ago there was an eruption of a volcano in Iceland. The ash which this produced led to the closure of airports across Europe and this in turn meant that vegetables produced in Africa could not be brought to Europe.

    The world’s population is increasing rapidly, especially in Africa, South America and Asia. Food produced in these countries will be needed to feed the populations of these countries and will not be available for export to Europe.

    There is a risk of political instability in food producing countries which could lead to disruption of trade in food.

    For all these reasons I do not think that food security for Europe is a matter of certainty and in consequece of that belief I think that the Common Agricultural Policy should reflect the intentions of its founders and that it should be directed to maximising food production within the European Union, as I said in my presentation at the EFLA-AEDA Congress. On this view the « greening » proposals are contrary to the purpose of the Common Agricultural Policy and are potentially dangerous for Europe.

    The second is the assertion that « the CAP has also put rural development as the second pillar, in order to help farmers to diversify and improve their product marketing ». I would suggest that the second pillar was invented, not with a view to assisting farmers, but in order to provide perceived environmental benefits in a cynical attempt by politicians to sell the expense to the taxpayer of the Common Agricultural Policy to a largely urban electorate.

    Donald Rennie, President, CEDR


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