Do you remember the following words from European Commissioner for health and consumer protection David Byrne? : "I am determined to ensure that the momentum we have created on food safety continues… the Commission is forging ahead with the practical developmental tasks needed to make the European Food Safety Authority operational." That was back in April this year when the new EFSA was in its nascent stage and MEPs claimed the EFSA was a giant step forward for food safety in Europe.
So, have these strong words been backed by action? Apparently not. A statement this week sees a disappointed EFSA 'reluctantly adopting' the authority's budget, €8,244,171, for 2003 - approximately half the promised sum. This move from the European Parliament reveals the apparent abyss between political conviction and action.
Dr Stuart Slorach, chair of the board, said : "The truth is that the board considers that this budget is insufficient to properly discharge the authority's responsibilities as described in Regulation 178/2002.
Therefore, the board has requested that the Parliament exercises its responsibility for food safety by restoring the full budget of €16,493,423. This will ensure that the authority will develop as quickly as possible during 2003 and, only under this scenario, will it be able to effectively serve the interests of European consumers, the food industry, the agricultural sector and other key interests."
It is, in fact, difficult to believe that the Parliament, after all the same body that cleared the legislation paving the way for Europe's new food safety body, finds it appropriate to cut the budget by half - in addition, the EFSA is still very much at the developmental stage. What happened to prioritising food safety in Europe? Installing the EFSA was a clear sign from Europe that it would sincerely tackle the increasing food safety issues of the day. Why have they stepped back?
The EFSA must wait for the final decision on the budget by the European Parliament - expected by 19 December 2002.