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Food safety and the lessons to be learned

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Food safety and the lessons to be learned

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“Hello I’m Chris Burns and welcome to the Network where we connect into a matrix of news makers to get to the heart of an issue and watch out – they’ve got to answer in 25 seconds or less, or else. Let’s take a look at that issue, right now.

It’s only the latest food related crisis to shake European public confidence after scandals over dioxin and other tainted meat. Thousands are sickened by E.Colo bacteria. Experts scramble to trace the origin while fear and suspicion make shoppers wary, devastating many European farmers. As the danger subsides the wider concerns about food safety and security won’t go away. How will Europe deal with the next food scare? How to feed a growing world population without wrecking the planet or endangering people’s health. Will GM crops enslave farmers to big agricultural concerns?

Will cloning cause undue suffering among livestock?

On the other hand, what are the risks of higher food prices if we don’t hijack nature to boost production? Recent spikes in prices, driven in part by rising demand from emerging economies, have driven people-power rebellions around the world. As global warming worsens, they may only be the beginning.

Now wired in to this edition of the network from the European Parliament in Brussels, George Lyon, a British MEP who has been critical of the way the E.Coli crisis has been handled. Also here in Brussels is Eric Poudelet who is director of the Food Chain Safety Department at the European Commission’s Directorate of Health and Consumer Affairs. And from Madrid, Jose Angel Olivan, who is President of the Spanish Consumers Union, also critical of how authorities have dealt with the crisis.

Jose Angel Let’s begin with you. There’s a lot of anger in Spain because of this crisis. Whose fault is it that dozens of people have died from E.Coli?”:

Jose Angel Olivan is the Director of the Spanish consumers Union:

“In reality it’s been a food and health crisis that’s been very badly managed. Very poorly managed because in the first place it has led to major economic losses among agricultural producers in Spain and other parts of Europe. But above all it has raised doubts and insecurities with consumers about the protection mechanisms that exist in Europe. That is to say that the authorities have not moved with sufficient speed and firmness.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Thank you Jose Angel. George, what’s your take on this? It looks like Jose Angel is accusing authorities of not acting fast enough.”

George Lyon is a Deputy of the Liberal and Democrats in the European Parliament:

“Well I think the German response was at best shambolic in the response to the initial outbreak, We need to know what caused it, what went wrong on the farms, why it was so slow to actually identify what went wrong and we need to learn the lessons so that Europe can actually react faster next time this happens.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“OK alright Eric let’s go to you. How much of that responsibility do you take?”

Eric Poudelet, Director of Food Chain Safety:

“The responsibility lies essentially with the German authorities. It’s true that there have been errors in communication, a lack of coordination, a lack of consensus on a federal level, between the German provinces. But we have given out information as soon as possible.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Alright but let me throw it back to you again then..why was the EU so powerless in this case? What does it need to do in the future for the next crisis?”

Eric Poudelet, Director of Food Chain Safety:

“We have to learn something from this crisis which has been the worst for the past 30 years. We have to learn from it in terms of the member states notably Germany and the European Union, in order to know how to react better in the future should a crisis like this occur again.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“OK Jose Angel let me ask you what needs to done on the European level here?”

Jose Angel Olivan is the Director of the Spanish consumers Union:

“What you have to do is to respond in a scientifically verifiable manner. The information must be information that is not contradicted later, because the confidence of consumers in control systems is essential. If you lose that trust, if consumers think that the authorities who monitor food security don’t do it competently, then that lack of trust will take a long time to recover.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Ok call for action. Let’s go to you George, let’s move this on to where it all started. It’s believed that it started at an organic farm and a lot of people are saying organic farming is really the future or should be the future, more earth-friendly and healthier for people. What does that say about organic farming?”

George Lyon is a Deputy of the Liberal and Democrats in the European Parliament:

“Well I think you can’t claim that one particular farming is safer than the other. All farming needs to abide by the rules in terms of hygiene, health rules, all the rest of it. What needs to happen now is an independent and transparent investigation into the cause of this and what went wrong. Then once we have the facts we take action. The last thing we want is a whole lot of knee-jerk reaction, new regulations brought in that actually don’t solve the problem.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Alright thanks George. Eric let’s go to you let’s take it a step further here. Organic farming is one of the elements of future farming but how are we going to feed nine million people by 2050? The FAO says we have to double production between now and then because we already have a billion people who are hungry?”

Eric Poudelet, Director of Food Chain Safety:

“Indeed, it is a big challenge for the future: I don’t know if conventional or biological agriculture will be able to provide for those needs. It’s a very important element: we have to think carefully about conditions in which we can feed 9 or 10 billion people while still respecting the consumers’ health and the environment.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“OK Jose Angel let’s go to you. One aspect of this about increasing production is genetically modified crops. Do you think we need those in order to meet all those demands for higher production in the next few decades?”

Jose Angel Olivan is the Director of the Spanish consumers Union:

“GM products are questioned by the public, meaning a significant section is against the use of GM products. From our point of view, from the viewpoint of consumer, the decision not to eat GM products must be respected. In the same way we respect the decision of certain religions not to eat certain products, there are Europeans who do not want to eat GMOs. This must be respected.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“George, what about cloning? That’s the same thing about increasing production. We need cows that make more milk don’t we?”

George Lyon is a Deputy of the Liberal and Democrats in the European Parliament:

“Well the fundamental challenge that faces us all is how to develop more sustainable production systems. Systems that are more carbon efficient, more resource efficient and deliver greater yields while reducing the amount of inputs that we need. That’s the big challenge. A lot of these new technologies are going to be needed to achieve that and meet the challenge of feeding this extra world population.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Eric one possibility is if we don’t increase production the prices are going to go up. Do you think maybe that’s the way to do it, rationing by price, forcing people to change their diets?”

Eric Poudelet, Director of Food Chain Safety:

“It’s true that in Europe agricultural products are not always sold at the right price, but we can be sure that in years to come agricultural prices are going to increase. Even if we manage to increase production, we can’t guarantee that such prices could decrease in the future.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“George, one question about bio-fuels, how much do you blame bio-fuels for inflaming food prices?”

George Lyon is a Deputy of the Liberal and Democrats in the European Parliament:

“I don’t think there’s much linkage between the two. I think we have the possibility to not only deliver food security for the world’s population but energy security and agriculture can play a role in both. What we need to do is focus all the support systems in developing this new model of agriculture that’s more sustainable, more resource-efficient and is able to deliver not only food for our customers but fuel as well.”

Chris Burns euronews:

“Last question to you Eric. Let’s look 20 years down the line in the context of all these issues here. Do you think food is going to be as safe in 20 years or are we going to see even more problems then?”

Eric Poudelet, Director of Food Chain Safety:

“It’s true that nowadays more and more problems are surfacing due to better diagnostics in hospitals, but it is a fact that in the next 20 years, food will become more and more safe.”