What will the European elections and change of Commission mean for the agri-food sector?
It is widely recognised that food and nutrition policy has never been the European Commission’s biggest priority. We tend to see a range of non-binding action at EU level, with most of the real legislative work taking place in Member States. It is not surprising then that there is much discussion on the future of DG SANTE, with rumours that there could be a complete reshuffle. After DG SANCO became DG SANTE in 2015, such a change is far from out of the question.
Delivering for citizens
As ever, there is a need to deliver for EU citizens. Recent years have seen a number of key citizens’ concerns hitting the headlines in Brussels. The dual quality of products sold across the EU Single Market has long proved to be an emotional issue which attracts the attention of many central & eastern Europeans, who feel they are being treated like second class citizens. The agreement on the revision of EU consumer law (the “New Deal for Consumers”) may well be heralded as a success in aiming to regulate this practice. In any case, dual quality is not going to go away just yet and is likely to be a key election issue for many MEPs.
Similarly, the Glyphosate scandal remains front of mind. So much so that a citizens’ initiative pushed the European Commission to review the General Food Law, in order to increase transparency in the risk assessment process, after being criticised for being too heavily influenced by the food industry. We are seeing an increasing need for EU bodies to be held accountable to citizens, and it is likely that this will remain a key priority.
All about CAP
Food policies do not feature so heavily in the political parties’ manifestos. Nevertheless, the fairly controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its famous subsidies appear as a recurrent theme throughout the political statements. For the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), the reform of EU agricultural policy should be tied to promoting sustainable and quality food, whilst promoting animal welfare. Where the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) call for a reform and rethink of agricultural subsidies, the European People’s Party (EPP) calls more generally for a modernisation of the CAP to defend European farmers.
Big picture nutrition
All in all, the next few months will likely bring a lot of change. What will this really mean for nutrition policy? Combatting the rising obesity epidemic has long been an area of concern, with the EU focussing on areas such as the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, limiting artificial trans-fats content, and promoting active lifestyles.
Here the (eventual) departure of the 73 UK MEPs could have an impact. The UK delegation is largely regarded as very pro-innovation, but tough on nutrition policy.
For example, the UK has introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks, implemented a colour-coded nutritional labelling scheme, and promoted mandatory product reformulation.
Moreover, it is unclear who will replace the outgoing EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. Will we see another doctor taking on this role, or someone with a completely different background that could lead the future of nutrition down a different path?
We could see a review of the food Information to consumers (FIC) legislation, an EU wide labelling scheme and other more prescriptive measures introduced.
Food policy may not in principle have the strongest mandate, but it is nevertheless an area which spans many legislative topics, from food safety, to public health to sustainability. Will it be a priority for the next Commission – we’re not holding out for a DG FOOD!