Our health is highly affected by what we eat. Safety is the most important ingredient consumers expect to find in their food and the European Commission has identified food safety as one of its top priorities, in particular through the White Paper on Food Safety of January 2000. Also, a recent Commission poll, has shown that 90% of EU citizens think the priority of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be to ensure that agricultural products are healthy and safe. The reformed CAP should encourage sustainable agriculture as a means of promoting rural development by protecting the environment and reflecting consumers´ concerns. For this purpose, the Commission has recently promoted a European Action Plan on Organic Food and Farming encouraging farmers to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilisers, growth hormones, antibiotics or gene manipulation. Instead, organic farmers could use a range of techniques that help sustain ecosystems and reduce pollution.
Community food legislation aims at the establishment of the right balance between risks and benefits of substances that are used intentionally and at the reduction of contaminants . For chemical substances in food, EU legislation is divided into the following areas: additives, flavouring, contaminants, residues, food contact materials, and hormones in meat. In particular, an EU Strategy on Mercury is currently being developed. Mercury and its compounds are found in fish and they are highly toxic to humans, especially to the developing nervous system. A European Food and Safety Authority was set up in 2002 to provide independent scientific advice on all matters linked to food and feed safety and to provide scientific advice on nutrition in relation to Community legislation.
In order to ensure that the development of modern biotechnology, and more specifically of GMOs, takes place in complete safety, the European Union has established a legal framework to protect its citizens’ health and the environment while simultaneously creating a unified market for biotechnology. EU legislation establishes rules of traceability and labelling of GMOs and procedures on how to get them approved (FAQs on GMOs and list of GM foods authorised in the EU). The European legal framework applicable to GMOs and the way in which it is implemented are consistent with rules laid down in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the work carried out in the context of the Code Alimentarius and the ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Biotechnology (TFFBT). EU legislation is also consistent with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.