On 1 June 2018, the European Commission published three legislative proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2021-2027: a regulation for strategic plans to be drawn up by Member States, a regulation on the common organization of the markets in agricultural products, and a horizontal regulation on the financing, management and monitoring of the CAP. The budget is decreasing compared to the previous period. It reaches 365 billion euros, which represents 28.5% of the European budget compared with 37.6% currently.

One of the main changes introduced by the proposals is the freedom left to Member States in order for them to define how the funds there are being granted should be allocated. Member States will be responsible for drawing up national plans according to the needs of the country, and these plans will then be validated by the Commission, in line with the nine objectives defined for the CAP at the European level. The Commission also proposes the price cap and the gradual reduction of direct payments which are used to support farmers' incomes. The institution wishes to promote a generational renewal and proposes that at least 2% of the Member States endowment should be allocated to young farmers.

These proposals do not seem to satisfy the policy makers and the actors involved in the CAP. 20 Member States announced their opposition to a budget cut. MEPs from different political groups are worried about the "re-nationalisation" of the CAP. Finally, farmers are dissatisfied with the reduction of direct payments that they consider to be an essential tool to stabilize their incomes.

The debates are now opened in the European Parliament and in the Council. Decision makers wish to reach an agreement before the political renewal in the Commission and in the European Parliament that will take place in May 2019.

On 28 May 2018, the European Commission and the member states adopted new rules on labelling the origin of the primary ingredient in food. This means that if a product’s label indicates its origin, then the origin of the primary ingredient in the product should also be indicated, if different from the origin of the food product. This measure aims at making information accessible for consumers and at preventing them from being misled by a deceiving indication. The legislation will apply from 1 April 2020.

Following the regulation’s adoption, a public hearing was held in the European Parliament on the question of labelling of origin for agricultural and food products, on 4th June. Some of the speakers expressed their wish to implement a mandatory labelling of origin for all kind of food products. For the moment, the creation of such a system is not considered at a European level. However, eight member states have introduced experimental provisional measures making the origin labelling for some food products mandatory. A report on the impact of those measures should be published in 2020 and the debate might then be reopened.

On 18 April 2018, the Commission’s proposal for reviewing the regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products will be voted in plenary session of the European Parliament. The proposition has been discussed for more than four years at European level. A provisional agreement was finally reached between the Parliament and the Member States. This agreement must now be ratified by both institutions.
 
The reviewed legislation of 2007 should allow for a better harmonisation of practices regarding organic production and labelling of organic products within the EU, and with third countries, as well as modernising the control system for products labelled as such. The question of the equivalence of the European « organic » labelling, which meet strict standards, with similar labelling in third countries, which don’t meet the same standards was one of one of the hot topics of the negotiations. The European institutions finally agreed that, except for countries with a mutual recognition agreement, the current equivalence system will come to an end within five years. This period was considered necessary in order not to disturb the supply of the European organic market which developed considerably in the past years and increasingly relies on imports. It will be replace by a system based on compliance with European standards, granting the « organic » label to products meeting those standards. These new rules should come into effect as of 1st January 2021.
In his State of the Union address on 13 September 2017, the European Commission’s president Jean Claude Juncker announced his intention to tackle the problem of dual quality food. Indeed, tests conducted in seven « new » Member States have shown that the taste and composition of products sold with the same packaging could differ from one country to another.  These quality differences may consist of a lower presence of the main ingredient, which could make the product less healthy or alter its sensory properties. Manufacturers replied that these variations could also be the result of adapting the product to local tastes.
 
In reaction to this problem the Commission proposed to provide for a common testing methodology and to allocate a specific budget for its design and application. The European Parliament has also taken up the subject and a resolution is currently being debated in parliamentary committees. A resolution has no legal power but would give support to Vera Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, in introducing modifications on the matter in the revision of the Consumer Directives expected by 11 April. The main question would be whether or not to add this deceptive trade practice to the blacklist of unfair trade practices already defined in European law.

A new Regulation has become applicable in the beginning of this year 2018 to facilitate the authorisation and circulation of novel foods on the European market. With the changes that it brings, the European Commission hopes to enrich the choice that food businesses will have of foods that are innovative or new to Europe. “Novel food” is defined as being all types of food for which the consumption was negligeable or inexistant in the EU before 1997. It can include new innovations that have been recently developed, using new technology for example, or traditional food originating from countries outside the EU. Among the examples of ingredients or foods that can be considered as novel food, we can count magnolia bark extract, guar gum or Baobab dried fruit pulp. A new category was even created for insects and their preparation. Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for health and food safety, welcomed the new Regulation, stating that it would now be simpler and faster to put novel foods on the European market, while keeping the same level of food safety.

The new Regulation includes an update of the definition of “novel food” so that it now takes into account recent technological advances in the food sector, a centralised EU authorisation system and a list of all authorised novel foods in the EU. Before being authorised all novel foods must be shown to be safe for public health. This authorisation then sets out the conditions for their use and their marketing. Through these new rules, Vytenis Andriukaitis hopes that “the variety already present on the EU market of healthy, nutritious, traditional and innovative foods” will be added to.

The European Commission decided in November to consult actors in the catering sector on trans fats, a specific type of unsaturated fats present in food products, the consumption of which increases the risk of coronary disease. This consultation is particularly aimed at trans fats of industrial origin, which can be produced during the preparation of food products. Caterers and professional organisations in particular are invited to contribute to this consultation and to express their point of view on the subject.

The European Commission is considering several actions at the EU level to deal with this problem, which are more or less binding for food industry actors. Notably, it could propose to legally limit the permitted trans fats content in food products, or require labelling indicating the level of content. Caterers could be in particular affected if the Commission proposes to ban the use of partly hydrogenated oils in food preparation, the main source of trans fats of industrial origin. It is possible to contribute to the consultation up to the 9th February 2018 by following the link here.

In the last few weeks, the European Commission has taken on food waste as a central issue to act on, with the aim of halving it by 2030. During its latest interventions on the subject, it has called on all actors in the food chain, farmers, distributors but also caterers, to play an important role in reducing and preventing this practice. According to the Commission’s estimates, 88 million tons of food are lost every year in the EU, which corresponds to 20% of all its food production.

On 7th November 2017, members of the EU Platform on Food Waste created by the European Commission met together in Brussels so as to define their program for the fight against food loss. Guidance on food donations aimed at actors of the food chain came out as a result of this platform. Within this document, the Commission explains to catering operators the EU rules that already exist to facilitate food donations. It encourages for example VAT exemptions for food donations in the cases in which the merchandise has no real value. Binding targets of reductions in food waste are also being discussed at the EU level in the framework of the revision of the Directive on Waste. A European agreement on these points is expected in the beginning of 2018.

The scandal of fipronil contaminated eggs has continued to draw attention within the European Union, its institutions having taken several measures to better protect poultry farms and consumers. As mentioned last month in this newsletter, the illegal presence of fipronil in a pest control product used in laying hens in poultry farms in the Netherlands and Belgium provoked a new uproar concerning our food safety. Consumer health was said to not have been put in danger, nevertheless, following a high-level meeting on 26 September 2017, Member States and the Commission agreed on 19 concrete measures to reinforce EU action against food fraud. These measures intend to, for example, reinforce the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), forgotten during this last egg crisis, and considers the possibility of creating a network with a point of contact in each Member State linked to the RASFF to improve the effectiveness of the system. Member States will also have to encourage food business operators to better implement existing self-monitoring programs, while on its part the Commission is planning to better coordinate the communication of information when a new risk arises. The European Commission also addressed another hot topic in food safety related to eggs: bird flu. The commercial status of “free range eggs” should be loosened, with the aim of improving the prevention of an epidemic. The delegated regulation presented by the Commission on 20 September 2017, brings from twelve to sixteen weeks the period during which hens can be kept indoors without their eggs losing the commercial status of “free range eggs”. The European Parliament and the Council have two months to examine this delegated regulation, with an entry into force expected in December 2017.

The European Commission announced that it had been informed on 20 July 2017 of the illegal presence of fipronil in a pest control product used in laying hens in poultry farms in the Netherlands and Belgium. In total, farms in twelve Member States have been affected. According to the European Commission, the use of illegal substances containing fipronil in laying hens and its consequences on the food chain constitutes a large scale fraud which would not have endangered the health of consumers. The European Commission also assured that at present time all contaminated eggs and meat have been withdrawn from the market and can no longer be used for processed products.

 

Moreover, a high-level meeting will take place on 26 September 2017 in order to identify possible solutions to improve the European early warning system. The authorities of the Member States concerned stated that they had become aware of the contamination before it’s notification to the European Commission but favored bilateral contacts outside the EU's early Food and Feed Safety Alerts. The results of this meeting will be presented to the Agriculture ministers of the 28 Member States on 9 and 10 October 2017.