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Chapter: Introduction to Human Nutrition: Food and Nutrition: Policy and Regulatory Issues

European Food Safety Authority

The primary responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is to provide independent scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indi-rect impact on food safety.


Having considered the global agencies and institu-tions that impact on food and nutrition regulation, the EU will be considered as an example of evolution toward a modern system of food and nutrition regulation.


The EU is an association of 27 Member States that have agreed to integrate and coordinate much of their economic policy and some other policy areas. The original European Economic Community (EEC) was formed following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and consisted of six Member States, increas-ing over time to 9, 12, 15, 25, and 27 Member States in 2007 following the accession of Romania and Bul-garia. The emphasis in the early years was to concen-trate on the free movement of foodstuffs through the common market. EU food regulation developed in an uncoordinated fashion over a period of more than 40 years and resulted in a fragmented framework char-acterized by different national traditions of member states as well as different policy areas such as trade and agriculture to which they were linked.

From a consumer health point of view, the domi-nant areas were related to food safety, in particular toxicology and microbiology. Nutrition issues in EU policy were dominated by compositional standards for infant foods and clinical foods. The Community may not act in a policy area unless given the power to do so by Treaty and the Treaty of Rome did not explic-itly mention consumer protection or public health. These goals were added to the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty.


Three institutions, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament – the interinstitutional triangle – take decisions in the legislative field. The main differences in the decision-making process are related to whether the Council decides by qualified majority or unanimity and the degree to which the European Par-liament is involved in the process. In legislative initia-tives, the Commission has sole right of initiating policy. The legislative process usually starts with the expecta-tion that the Community should act in a particular policy area. The prompt for action often comes from external pressure perhaps in response to pressure from a particular Member State, the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, trade associations, research on risks and hazards, technical developments, etc. These influences build up pressure for action.

In 1974, a Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) was established by the European Commission “to advise the Commission on any problem relating to the pro-tection of the health and safety of persons arising or likely to arise from the consumption of food, in par-ticular on nutritional, hygienic and toxicological issues.” The SCF was located in the Directorate General Industry (DG111). At various times, scientific com-mittees were criticized on a number of grounds by the European Parliament and by industry and consumer NGOs. Following the bovine spongiform encepha-lopathy (BSE) crisis in the UK, there was a further decrease in confidence in the scientific committees and, with the new powers in public health granted by the Maastricht Treaty, the European Parliament forced the Commission to totally revise the structures of the scientific committees. Indeed, the Santer Commission in its very first year almost collapsed under pressure from the European Parliament to speed up the reform and to restore consumer confidence in the issuing of scientific advice to the Commission. A major reorga-nization of the Commission’s services ensued. The responsibility for monitoring the implementation of food safety legislation and for providing scientific advice, hitherto jointly share by the Commissioners for Agriculture and Industry, was transferred to the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs. The rationale at the time was that it was necessary to separate monitor-ing, compliance with and enforcement of the law from the law-making function itself. This latter function remained for a time with the Agriculture and Industry Commissioners. Two years later, however, the legisla-tion function on food safety was transferred to the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner. The Commission also announced that the way in which scientific advice on food safety was provided at Euro-pean level would be reorganized and strengthened. A Scientific Steering Committee to oversee the work of the eight regrouped scientific committees was created. The Green Paper on the general principles of food law was published in 1997 to launch a debate on the future development of EU food law. Its aim was to provide the Commission with a solid background for a major program of new or amending legislation it would later propose in the 2000 White Paper on food safety. In January 2002 Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 laying down general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety was adopted. The Regulation sets out the general prin-ciples of EU food law, establishes a European Food Safety Authority, and establishes a rapid alert system for the notification of direct or indirect risks to human health deriving from feed or food, and sets down clear procedures for the handling by the Commission and the Member States of food safety emergencies and crises. The main principles of EU food law contained in the Regulation includes all food and feed at all stages of production, processing, and distribution; food law must be based on a system of risk analysis founded on risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication; the precautionary principle will be applied in the case of a potential risk to human health where there is scientific uncertainty as to what measures to take; public authorities at all levels will apply the principle of transparency in consulting with and informing the public on actual or potential risks and the actions that are taken or proposed to deal with them. The Regulation provides for a system to allow the traceability of all food and feed at all stages of the food and feed chain; food operators are responsible at all stages of the food chain for ensuring that the food they produce complies with the requirements of food law and must verify that the requirements are met; food business operators have an obligation, when they have reason to believe that food that has been imported, produced, processed, manufactured, or dis-tributed is not in compliance with requirements, to withdraw the product from the marketplace, to inform the responsible public authorities, and to inform consumers of the reasons for withdrawal; food imports and exports must meet the requirements of EU food law.

European Food Safety Authority


The primary responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is to provide independent scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indi-rect impact on food safety. The Authority has been given a wide brief, so that it can cover all stages of food production and supply, from primary produc-tion to the safety of animal feed, right through to the supply of food to consumers. It gathers information from all parts of the globe, keeping an eye on new developments in science. It shares its findings and listens to the views of others through a network (advi-sory forum) that will be developed over time, as well as interacting with experts and decision-makers on many levels. Although the Authority’s main “cus-tomer” is the Commission, it is open to respond to scientific questions from the European Parliament and the Member States and it can also initiate risk assessments on its own behalf. The Authority carries out assessments of risks to the food chain and indeed can carry out scientific assessment on any matter that may have a direct or indirect effect on the safety of the food supply, including matters relating to animal health, animal welfare, and plant health. The Authority also gives scientific advice on non-food and feed, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and on nutrition in relation to Community legislation.

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