The EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, David Byrne, has welcomed that the European Parliament (EP) gave its broad support to two legislative proposals designed to cut the incidence of food-borne diseases.

The proposals, adopted by the Commission in August of last year, provide for a thorough revision of current EU legislation and are designed to improve measures to protect against “zoonoses” those diseases transmissible between animals and humans.

“These proposals mark a further example of the practical implementation of our ‘farm to fork’ approach to matters of food safety,” said Byrne. “I am delighted that the EP has given them its broad support. Salmonellosis, listeria, e-coli and other food-borne diseases pose an ongoing threat to public health. Our proposals will lead to better monitoring and control in the fight against these diseases, with reduction targets for specific disease agents.”

“The zoonoses proposals dovetail with the food hygiene package,” he added, “and mark another important step in our review of food legislation in pursuit of our primary objective to ensure that European consumers have access to the safest possible food supply in the world”.

In its opinion, the EP largely endorsed the principles underpinning the Commission’s proposals for two legislative instruments. The first proposal, for a Directive on the monitoring of zoonotic agents, provides a basis on which to improve knowledge of the sources and trends of these pathogens, to support microbiological risk assessments, and to serve as a basis to adopt measures to manage risks. The European Food Safety Authority will play a key role in delivering this programme. The second proposal, for a Regulation on the control of salmonella, aims to reduce the public health burden caused by this specific agent. Over 150,000 human cases of salmonellosis are reported every year in the EU. The Regulation will apply to a major source of contamination primary production. A procedure is also provided to set targets for zoonotic agents other than salmonella.

Through most of its amendments, the EP improved the proposals from an editorial and technical point of view. As regards monitoring, the need to collect significant and comparable data throughout the food chain and the objective to make information available to the public in a fast and transparent manner were further strengthened. As regards the draft Regulation, the involvement of the feed business operators in the salmonella control programmes, implicit in the Commission proposal, was clarified and reinforced.

A number of significant issues were raised during the discussions. Among them was the principle of setting targets to reduce the prevalence of different types of salmonella in animal populations. The EP endorsed the Commission’s progressive approach towards setting these targets. The timetable for the different targets proposed by the Commission, was generally accepted. The EP did however call for broadening the target and measures to include egg-laying hens; amending the target for breeding pigs to include slaughter pigs; and adding targets for different types of cattle and for sheep. Byrne expressed support for broadening the target for laying hens and amending the target to cover slaughter pigs, but took the view that a scientific opinion was needed before setting these additional very ambitious targets for calves, other cattle and sheep.

The proposals will now be discussed by the Council of Ministers.