NEWS

Expert says EU food is safest in the world

Meat quality depends a great deal on the way the animal has been treated, according to Professor Apostolos Rantsios, an internationally renowned veterinary surgeon, a member of numerous international scientific and political organizations, and someone who is very well informed about scientific and institutional developments in the sectors of food safety, hygiene and quality. According to Rantsios, food quality is closely linked to sustainability. Meanwhile, he says, there is no such thing as absolutely safe food. «Every time we eat something, consciously or unconsciously we take a risk,» he said. Food-processing units are now gigantic, primary products come from many different places around the globe; produced in one place, they are processed in another, packaged in yet another, and are moved from one side of the world to the other. Nevertheless, here in Europe we should count ourselves lucky, he said. «We in Europe live in the most civilized part of the world, a continent with advanced legislation on food safety,» said Rantsios. «Europe has learned a lot from the food crises of the past 15 years – hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, dioxins, BSE – and has seen that there has to be prevention at the source. There has to be interdisciplinary cooperation and integrated control, evaluation of risks and intervention at every stage of the production process from the field to the consumer. Previously, only the producer’s name was on the product. Now, traceability is compulsory – that is, a product identity which allows the consumer to know everything about every stage of production, have information on all the links in the chain from the field, stable and abattoir to the standardization outfit and retail sales outlets. It is not an academic desire, it is the law. Regulation 178/2002 requires exactly that. It was a great step forward,» said Rantsios. Regulation 178, in force since February 2002, is the main food law in the EU. It is the basis for the establishment of the European Food Safety Authority, whose main goal is the implementation of emerging European legislation. Rantsios explained that the 17 directives on food that were in force until now are to be incorporated into five regulations which are compulsory for every member state. «For years now, we have known what we want to do; that is to be able to know the origin of food when we buy it. But there has never been a legislative framework for it. As an outcome of the food crises, the prevailing philosophy has become law. The other regulations (on food hygiene, animal products, treatment of animals and so on) have already been passed by the European Parliament and will be finalized by its new session in the fall. According to Rantsios, in Europe we have the safest food in the world. «That is because society demands it. Nowhere else has so much fuss been made about food crises, nowhere else has there been such pressure. In Japan, in the US, Australia and Latin America, only the scientific basis (safe food production by the most economical means possible) is considered. In Europe, we take other «legitimizing factors» into consideration, issues that might not have a direct bearing on food: the humane treatment of animals, the protection of their health (for example, animal fodder is governed by the same quality and safety controls as is food destined for humans), environmental protection, sustainability in production and exploitation. That is why Europe’s new Common Agricultural Policy no longer provides subsidies for producers as a whole, but for the individual producer; first of all in order to get rid of subsidies that create artificial paradises for products, and secondly to serve a culture in which we care about our children, grandchildren and the generations to come, about our environment, and in which we love animals. We eat pork, but that doesn’t prevent us from ensuring that the animal does not suffer during its life. We eat eggs, although we don’t want the chicken to live in a cage, but to have some freedom of movement. «We used to say,» said Rantsios, «that quality is what satisfies a customer’s requirements. Now, quality is defined as something that does no harm to third parties – the next generations, the environment, animals, plants. That new meaning of quality, which does not seem to interest anyone apart from Europeans, is now incorporated into legislation on food safety. However, in a Europe where food is one of the locomotives of the economy, one wonders how the gap between mass and quality production can be bridged. «The primary sector will change toward more natural means of production,» said Rantsios. In the Netherlands, attempts are already being made to reduce production, as the environment is under pressure. They are turning to exports and developing them to a much greater extent. As for the cost, Rantsios said about 1.5 million euros is spent on finding one single animal suffering from BSE among 30,000 animals. The new philosophy will take 10-20 years to be fully put into practice. «In Greece, we are slow at implementing laws because there is no state. Until we get one, we will continue to have problems,» said Rantsios.