Avril Doyle, a Fine Gael Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and a member of the EU Committee for Environment, Public Health & Food Safety, has urged the food industry to take more notice of the political process underway in Brussels and have its say on how policy should be shaped.

Speaking at the Healthy Foods European Summit in London yesterday, the Irish MEP stressed how significant a voice the food and drink industry could have, given that it is the third-largest employer in the EU and is made up of 282,000 companies which together constitute a market worth EUR800bn (US$1.02trillion).

At a time when concerns over food safety and nutrition, notably child obesity, are driving the reorientation of food and drink legislation away from the EU member states towards Brussels, it is increasingly critical that the industry inform itself about discussions in policy committees and have its say, Doyle emphasised.

Focusing particularly on the latest EU health claims proposals, which will tightly regulate nutrition claims that producers are allowed to make for their products, Doyle urged both industry and consumers to hold the MEPs they elect to account and make sure their interests are represented at Brussels.

Drawing on her own experience of the situation in Ireland, Doyle slated the media for taking a too short-term view of European politics. “The media only becomes interested when legislation passed at Brussels is subsequently transferred and enacted in Ireland, a process which can take years. They have no interest in telling their readers about decisions that will not affect them for five years – but affect them they will.”

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The timetable for the new EU laws on nutrition and health claims is still ambiguous, but the first effects will be felt next year. “Many companies are simply not prepared”, said Doyle, “notably small and medium-sized enterprises”.