Commission: Do it like the Americans in the food sector

Press conference by Tonio Borg, Member of the European Commission on the legislative package on animal and plant health, reassuring us for everything (EC Audiovisual Services, 06/05/2013).

Press conference by Tonio Borg, Member of the European Commission on the legislative package on animal and plant health, reassuring us for everything (EC Audiovisual Services, 06/05/2013).

Only some weeks after the European Union consumers learned that they were eating low quality and contaminated with phenylbutazone horse meat, having paid for it as if it was prime quality beef, the Commission chooses to release its proposal for a new Directive, providing for less controls and higher fines and charges. The new legislation is ‘sold’ to public opinion by the responsible (?) Commissioner Tonio Borg from Malta, as providing for “Smarter rules for safer food: Commission proposes landmark package to modernise, simplify and strengthen the agri-food chain in Europe”.

At first reading the proposed Directive is deeply cutting down in controls. Instead of that it introduces statistical sampling to replace extended animal and plant health checks. It is even more incomprehensible that the new law introduces higher charges and bigger fines, to finance the function of the new system at a time of falling incomes and reduced production. Probably the Commission seeks by that to increase its own incomes, given that the EU coffers receive a large part of the fines imposed by the national authorities.

There are four key points in the relevant Commission’s announcement as quoted here below:
“*The new rules follow a more risk based approach thus allowing competent authorities to focus their resources on the more relevant issues.
*The current system of fees to finance the effective implementation of these controls within a sustainable system along the whole chain will be extended to other sectors within the chain which are currently not charged.
*Microenterprises will be exempted from such fees, but not from controls, in order not to affect their competitiveness.
*Member States will also be asked to fully integrate anti-fraud checks into their national control plans and to ensure that financial penalties in these cases are set at truly dissuasive amounts.”

Welcoming US food products

Starting from the beginning this “more risk based approach” means obviously that fewer controls will be realised. Possibly the Commission is cutting down in animal and plant health checks, in view of the forthcoming Free Trade Agreement with the US. As everybody knows the Americans detest the controls all along the long chain of the agri-food industry, letting consumers to protect themselves using their own means.

Obviously this market based approach means that the rich will eat cleaner, healthier and more expensive products, while the poor will swallow whatever the unnaturally violated food-producing animal and plant ‘factories’ turn out. Probably the introduction of this new EU Directive is an indication that in a few months European consumers will be able to freely enjoy American GMOs and animal products full with hormones.

When it comes to money and pain the Commission is again following the American recipe. The phrase “fees to finance the effective implementation of these controls”, obviously means that the national authorities should not finance the system from their government budgets, but from consumer pockets. Understandably it will be the end users of the products who will be charged with all those increased fees and fines, as it works with the VAT. Increasingly the state is relieved of its basic obligation to control the market, in order to set money aside to buy more ‘security’ and ‘defence’, probably again from the Americans. In total the cost to consumers from this new Directive will be larger, because charges will be extended, “to other sectors within the chain which are currently not charged”.

Last but least, the Commission informs us that micro-enterprises will be exempted from charges but not from controls, “in order not to affect their competitiveness”. As if controls are enhancing competitiveness. However when it comes to small producers there is more liberalisation from this ‘laissez faire laissez passer’ Directive. It says that, “administrative burden is reduced for micro-enterprises who can market any type of material as ‘niche market material’ without registration”. In a nutshell, micro producers will be totally free from any obligation to register or being checked for anything. As for the definition of ‘micro’, it remains very elusive, probably to accommodate more interested parties.

In total the new proposed Directive introduces a new system of plant and animal health controls on our food chain reminding much more the American one, in the sense that the core idea is ‘markets can cure everything’. In short the European Union is welcoming the American food products which are to flood the European super market shelves in a few months.

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