In its publication CIAA priorities to the French presidency of the EU, the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries in Europe (CIAA) highlights three main areas for food policy at a European level: economic affairs; food and consumer policy; and sustainable consumption and production.
Food and beverages make up the largest manufacturing sector in Europe, with a turnover of some €870bn a year. The industry uses around 70 per cent of agricultural production, and employs around four million individuals.
Supply in agricultural raw materials
The French presidency is operating in a tricky economic environment, when food prices are soaring and supply issues are affecting major commodities.
The CIAA says: "EU policies affecting raw material supplies of EU food and drink industries must be coherent and based on clearly identified priorities; they must be designed to ensure access to competitive agricultural raw materials to offer food at reasonable prices to consumers."
In particular, it says that food and feed production must remain the primary goal of EU agriculture. The evolving biofuels industry and other non-food uses have appeared as a competitor to agricultural products' use in food, and this has been implicated as one of the reasons behind the rise in commodity prices which is having a knock-on effect right down the food chain.
The CIAA stresses that raw material supply must be secure, in line with quality criteria, sufficient in quantity, and be competitively priced.
In terms of specific legislations in the pipeline, the organisation said it is generally in favour of the proposals on the CAP health check, which follows on from the 2003 reform. It would welcome the removal of barriers to production, in view of the recent price story and the need to prevent market imbalances and disruptions.
Farmers should be able to respond to market fluctuations and step up production as necessary in order to meet demand.
"Certain market-related instruments, acting as a safety net to protect against exceptional circumstances, should… be retained," said the CIAA.
Food and consumer policy
Two particular piece of legislation are in the pipeline that will have a direct effect on innovation and marketing in the food and beverage sector: the novel foods amendment and the new food information regulation.
For novel foods, the CIAA says: "The revision of the regulation should stimulate innovation in the food and drink industry, protect the functioning of the internal market as well as public health and, at the same time, facilitate market access for novel food products."
In fact, the European Parliament last week published its draft report on amendments to the novel foods regulation, having made revisions to ensure better clarity. It has made changes to areas concerning definitions, data protection, traditional foods from third countries, penalties imposed by member states, and the authorisation procedure.
As for the draft proposal on food information, which was released at the end of January, the CIAA says it appreciates recognition given to industry initiatives on labelling, in particular the guidance daily amounts (GDA) scheme developed by the CIAA and now used by more than 50 manufacturers in Europe.
However it added that it "believes that the efforts and achievements so far by industry should be further encouraged".
The confederation drew attention to existing industry activities that are in line with the European Commission's Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), which aims to change consumption and production patters through eco-design and eco-labelling rules.
These are particularly focused on management of resources, including energy and water, and waste management.
Since the eco-design of foods is intrinsically linked to ingredient quality, as well as factors governing food composition such as taste, health and nutrition, and safety, the CIAA does not think that eco-design requirements should be mandatory.
"The key to sustainable food production lies in the continuous application of best available practices along the food chain, from farming to processing, packaging, transport, consumption, and end-of-life."
Broadly speaking, the CIAA said it is in favour of consumer information on all product characteristics, including impact on the environment.
But it set out a number of conditions, such as that the information must be scientifically reliable, relevant for the consumer and not misleading, safeguards innovation, and does not present a disproportional financial burden to industry.
Calling for a dialogue throughout the food chain on eco-labelling, the CIAA noted that labels are not the only tool for informing consumers. Websites, in-store information and leaflets also play a role.
"The French presidency will play a pivotal role in progressing this important topic and the CIAA looks forward to working together with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that workable solutions are found."