The new European Commission did not manage to overcome the hurdles to take office by 1st November as it was initially expected to do, with the European Parliament still having to vote on the full College of Commissioners during its Plenary session in Strasbourg, scheduled for 25-28th November (however this was not confirmed yet). This means that President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will most probably take the reins of the Berlaymont at the beginning of December instead.
But her priorities for the next five years are already clearly set out: along with prioritising tackling climate change, deepening the economic and monetary Union and ensuring digitalisation and fair trade, food safety and health will play a vital role in the Commission’s agenda.
Tackling cancer, promoting interconnected care and making Europe a Health Innovation Hub will be at the core of the Commission’s activity on health. With 40% of the population to face cancer in their lives, during this mandate, the Commission aims to put a European Plan in place to fight cancer, which would support Member States in improving cancer control and care. The Commissioner-designate for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides stated during the European Parliament’s hearing that achieving results would require a multilateral approach, including intensive work on ensuring safe foods and healthy lifestyle, technology, care, access to treatment etc.
Kyriakides also highlighted that the European Commission will focus on protecting patients’ voice by ensuring a steady supply of affordable medicines and improvement of communication. This will come at a cost of ensuring transparency across the EU, which is why the need for strengthening cooperation between the EU Member States on health technology assessments is very important. With the current obesity epidemic spreading across Europe, the EU will also lead on tackling the commercial determinants of health, ensuring that consumers have access to trustworthy information.
Securing nutritious, affordable and safe food will continue to be high on the European agenda, with a focus on producing safe foods and banning certain pesticides. All of this work will be conducted in the framework of the ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ on sustainable food. This strategy represents a long-term vision of the Union which aims to address every step of the food chain. This would mean more focus on innovation and technology and provision of healthy and safe foods.
The new strategy will serve as an opportunity for food industry stakeholders to engage with the European Commission and feed into the debate in order to maximise the benefits of the coming revolution in agricultural technology, whilst ensuring that the industry’s overall needs are taken into account.
EU work on information to consumers and nutrient profiles
An important aspect taken into consideration by Kyriakides is ensuring that there is a unified approach across Europe with regards to origin labelling, leading to more transparency and less misinformation for consumers.
By the end of this year, the Commission also aims to release a new report on Front-of-pack Nutritional Labelling, which will serve as a driving force to further work on securing a common approach to nutrient profiles across Members States.
Achieving this will certainly be a challenge. The experience of France with the introduction of the Nutri-Score system in 2017 (also known as the 5-colour Nutrition label) has divided the food industry stakeholders, given its non-mandatory character. Undoubtedly, if a certain nutrient profile is widely promoted by the European Commission, the French scenario may be repeated in other countries and at the EU level as well. Therefore, the European Commission should focus on providing a unifying system to be accepted by the Member States and also strengthening the top-down communication with public health experts, local food industry stakeholders and the relevant national authorities, to prove the efficiency and sustainability of the nutrient profile.
It is important for businesses to be aware that, the newly formed European Commission will bring new regulatory developments to the sector. Therefore, it is essential to keep monitoring developments at EU level and to find ways to engage with EU policymakers.
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