Food quality: the European priority

In 2019, following a European Citizens’ Initiative, the Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation on the transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food quality and safety; at the end of March 2021, the regulation became applicable. The regulation marks an important step towards further modernisation of the EU food safety policy. The new rules will improve the transparency of the EU risk assessment regarding food and cover a wide range of products of great concern for citizens.

However, striking differences exist among the EU states on households’ expenses for food, beverages and general consumption, which shows that the EU’s internal market’s convergence is far from perfect.

The Commission proposal for the food safety was initiated in April 2018, following the European Citizens’ Initiative called “Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides”, which aimed at the completion of a Fitness Check of the General Food Law Regulation, in accordance with the EU’s better regulation agenda.

The regulation was adopted by the EU co-legislators (the Council and the European Parliament) in June 2019 and was first of all aimed at strengthening the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reliability, objectivity and independence of studies and, secondly providing for a greater role of the EU member states in the EFSA’s governance and activities.

The regulation was developed in response to a European Citizens’ Initiative on pesticides and the findings of the review of the General Food Law Regulation that was completed in January 2018.

The regulation can be seen at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019R1381&from=EN

 

Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, in charge of European health and food safety issues argued that transparency on the EU scientific work in the area of food will reinforce consumer trust. The new transparency rules directly correspond to the Union’s “farm and fork strategy” to ensure that healthy food is produced and consumed.

The EFSA’s Executive Director, Bernhard Url added that over the past couple of years the agency has been committed to ensuring the transition to the new system in a smooth and inclusive way. At the pivotal moment in the EU’s food safety, the agency is having an exciting opportunity to bring citizens and stakeholders greater scrutiny of working processes and practices.

Citations from: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1386

 

More transparency

The regulation provides for an early food-risk assessment process with the submission of all scientific studies and data to be proactively disclosed to the public. This will happen in an easily accessible format on a dedicated section of the EFSA’s website. In addition, and to identify whether other relevant scientific data or studies are available, EFSA will consult the public and all other partners involved before preparing its scientific output.  

Among other things, the new regulation will allow citizens access to scientific studies and information submitted to EFSA by the food industry early in the production process; embeds public consultations in the process for assessing applications for approval of regulated products; ensure that EFSA is notified of all commissioned studies in a particular area to guarantee that companies applying for authorisations submit all relevant information; and give the European Commission the option of asking EFSA to procure additional studies.

More on EFSA in: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/transparency-risk-assessment-new-era-begins; see also: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/general_food_law/implementation-transparency-regulation/questions-answers

 

Ensuring food quality  

A series of measures in the regulation will ensure the quality, robustness and independence of the studies in food safety submitted by industry. When studies have been commissioned to support a future EU-wide authorisation application or notification, the concerned business operators and laboratories must notify these studies to EFSA at pre-submission phase. This measure is to guarantee that companies applying for authorisations submit all relevant information and do not hold back unfavorable studies.

During next four years, the Commission will perform fact-finding missions at laboratories to assess whether they apply relevant standards for tests and studies submitted to EFSA; these missions will allow the Commission to identify and, if necessary, to correct any non-compliance or weaknesses.

In recent months, EFSA has been helping producers to better understand and prepare for the new arrangements; the agency produced a range of supporting materials and animated tutorials for training sessions.

 

Better governance

The EU member states will play a bigger role to improve EFSA’s governance and scientific cooperation, and to ensure its long-term operational sustainability. The states’ representatives, together with the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as civil society and food chain interest groups, will be involved in the EFSA’s governance and will be represented in its Management Board from July 2022.

In addition, the regulation provides for a more active involvement of the states in fostering EFSA’s scientific capacity, by engaging the best independent experts.

The European Commission, EFSA and the EU-27 states are now working to achieve the last step of the regulation: i.e. the development of a general plan to ensure a coherent risk communication throughout the risk analysis process.

More information on food safety in: –Frequently Asked Questions – SANTE website; – Implementation of the Transparency Regulation; – European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) webpage; – General source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1386

 

Household expenses and consumption in the EU

There are striking differences among the EU states on households’ expenses for food, beverages and general consumption. Only about 10 percent of households’ income is used for consumer goods in such states as Luxembourg, Netherlands and the UK, while over 33 percent of income is used in households in Lithuania and in Rumania; thus, the EU’s internal market’s convergence is far from perfect. 

About 12 percent of income is used for food in the households in Denmark, Germany and Austria; over 12 percent in such states as Ireland, Cyprus and Finland. Within the margin of 13 percent are the households’ expenses in such states as Belgium, Portugal, France and Sweden. In 14-15 percent group are Slovenia and Spain; while Italians are using 17, 7 percent of households’ income for consumption. About 20-22 percent of expenses are for food in Czech Republic, Greece, Slovakia and Malta.

Among the Baltic States, Estonians are using 23, Latvians 26,5 and Lithuanians 33,7 percent of their income for food consumption; in the most “expensive” group are Polish households with about 24 percent, Hungarians with 26,7 and Croatians with 29,5 percent.

Still, a record-high consumption expenses in the EU-27 is registered in Lithuanian households with 33,7 percent, and in Rumanian ones with 38,2 per cent.  

In some countries outside the EU, the households’ expenses are comparably high too: e.g. in Russia 32 percent, in Belorussia 39 percent and in Ukraine – 54 percent.

 

As to the household consumption, the price level index for household final consumption expenditures in the EU differs as well: the price level in the Baltic States is about 64-72 percent lower, while in Rumania and Bulgaria is at the level of 48-52 percent of the EU’s average. One of the most expensive EU state is Denmark with about 41 percent over the European average; while several EU states are within the range of Union’s average: e.g. the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.     

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Comparative_price_levels_of_consumer_goods_and_services

 

Besides, on average, price index in Denmark is twice as high as in the Baltic States and about 4 times higher than in Bulgaria. Electricity, gas and other fuels are most expensive in Denmark too, which is about 2-3 times higher than in the Baltic States, Bulgaria and Rumania. Price levels for transport service is also the highest in Denmark: they are about 44 percent higher than in the EU’s average, while in the Baltic States it is about 70-85 percent lower than on the EU’s average. Generally, the price index in the final households’ consumption of the “old-17” EU states is about 15 percent higher than in the “new-10” Central and Eastern EU’s member states.

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