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Subject: Exchange of views with Commissioner John Dalli

Source: European Parliament ENVI

Subject: Exchange of views with Commissioner John Dalli

Date: April 4 2010

Commissioner Dalli was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling on a number of contentious issues – GMOs, the EU's response to the H1N1 crisis, cloning of animals, nutrient profiles, information to patients, cross border health care – and his replies did not appear to appease any of his critics. A full copy of his speech is attached.

H1NI crisis

Dalli hoped the EP would be involved, as invited, in the evaluation process. He had already sent a report on the first months of the crisis and a 2nd report on the vaccine was due out soon. They would also review information and communication issues and participate in the WHO review. All of these actions would feed into a future proposal on how to improve the EU's capacity to prepare for future pandemic outbreaks.

Rivasi (Greens/EFA, Fr) said the EP would use its powers of scrutiny on this and over 200 MEPs had already signed their call for a Temporary Committee on this. Dalli replied that they must avoid a “cry wolf” syndrome where when the next pandemic came – and it would- that it would mean that they did not act as quickly as they had done here.

Pargneaux (S&D, FR), another signatory to the Temporary Committee, castigated him for referring to it as a “pandemeic” when it should be called an “epidemic”. He argued that the way the crisis was handled will give rise to doubts over future cases and they needed to have a body to look into what really happened to reassure the public. Dalli replied that it had been called a pandemic and he defended the EU's quick response and getting a vaccine faster than ever before. He even felt you could argue that the low mortality rate were due to this action. This statement provoked Rivasi to heckle and threaten to walk out.

GMOs

In his opening statement Dalli said they should separate authorisation from cultivation. He stressed that he was neither for nor against GM but followed a science based process and if the legal requirements were fulfilled, then they should not “procrastinate” and reduce the EU to an “innovative backwater”. On authorisation, the 2003 laws should be the starting point and they needed to tone down the debate. He had talked to CropLife and was meeting interested NGOs next week. On cultivation, he would make an initiative before the summer to allow MS the freedom to decide to cultivate or not, in line with the guidelines set out by Barosso.

Lepage (ALDE, FR) asked for more details on this commitment for MS to decide and what plans he had to restore trust and confidence in EFSA and the experts used.

Rivasi (Greens/EFA, Fr) argued that the decision on the amflora potato went against the 2001 directive to phase out the resistance gene by 2004 and yet the gene was still there and risked being used to feed humans.

Dalli replied that GM had been raised during his earlier debate with AGRI and they wanted to keep to the science and had proposed a joint debate with ENVI on the future of GM (Leinen confirmed this). He welcomed an open debate so that they could look at the real issues and ramifications. When the experts say a GMO is safe then we need to follow that scientific advice and not take arbitrary or subjective decisions. He stressed that amflora was not for human consumption but was an industrial product. This gene had not only been analysed by EFSA but also ECDC and EMEA who all agreed it was safe. Arsenis (S&D, EL) asked why a 3rd study from EMEA was needed if he did not also think the EFSA studies were “unreliable”?

Tremopoulos (Greens/EFA, EL) said he should listen to farmers who called for a moratorium and agreed with those who doubted the independence of EFSA when they always sided with industry.

Weisgerber (EPP, DE) welcomed the decision to leave it to MS to decide to cultivate GM or not and wanted regions too to have a say.

Belier (Greens/EFA, FR) argued there was no transparency over GM authorisation and other scientists were not able to check the validity of what industry presented. The Commission needed to use the precautionary principle.

Dalli in conclusion on this issue said you could just not make sweeping statements like “EFSA is unreliable”. He said that they did want a more permanent auditing on the independence of all advisors.

Cloning

Dalli confirmed that there would be a report by the end of the year and they wanted a clear and consistent approach. They were still in the consultation phase.

Liese (EPP, DE) pointed out that ENVI had just voted for a separate proposal on this during their vote on Novel Foods and he urged him to produce this quickly if he wanted the Novel Foods Directive adopted quickly.

Liotard (GUE/NGL, NL) asked if he was already in negotiations with the US on this and he assured her that he was in negotiation with no one. They were talking to all stakeholders, and this included the US, but there would be no negotiations before the EU adopted its own position.

Ayuso (EPP, ES) asked how they could check for the offspring of cloned animals?

Health Claims

Dalli again stressed the need to follow the science and he stressed the importance of the Nutrient Profiles to allow for a balanced choice to be made and hoped ENVI would reconsider its decision to delete these.

Willmott (S&D, UK) said they had waited 4 years for the Commission to come up with the Nutrient Profiles and there were drafts circulating with high levels of salt, sugar etc that would allow donuts, biscuits and crisps to carry health claims! How could they ensure the objectives of the Directive were met?

Sommer (EPP, DE) backed up the ENVI decision to delete the Nutrient Profiles which she claimed were not valid or science based.

Pharma Package

Dalli only briefly touched on this in his opening statement, just saying that he hoped the same spirit of cooperation shown in the first two parts of the package would be shown in the Information to Patients proposal. Knowledge was the most powerful tool for citizens. He looked forward to their 1st reading amendments from the patients' perspective.

Pargneaux (S&D, FR) wanted more information on what actually he could support.

Weisgerber (EPP, DE) supported a neutral internet site and Dalli said he welcomed the proposal for a portal acting as a filter between the industry and the patient.

Dalli also agreed with Parvanova (ALDE, BE) that efficacy was important in evaluation and not just safety.

Grossetete (EPP, FR) said she was unhappy with the outcome on Counterfeit Medicines as it was not tough enough on re-packaging and called on him to stipulate the provisions needed to allow greater security if they went along with re-packaging.

Liese (EPP, DE) welcomed his comments at his Hearing offering more support to patients groups, particularly independent ones. Dalli replied that they would look at how to finance them to make them independent of industry. They were still at the reflection stage.

Kadenbach (S&D, AT) called for action to get child vaccination on the increase as diseases like measles were gaining a foothold again. Dalli agreed and pointed to the measles outbreak in BG. We need to push vaccination to eliminate diseases.

Cross Border Health Care

Dalli welcomed the “positive” moves from the Spanish Presidency which had lead to a text on the table which he felt could form the basis of a Common Position at the June Council.

Grossetete (EPP, FR) asked for more detail on issues like definition of MS of affiliation; providers of private care; e-health.

Vergnaud (S&D, FR) said they must take greater account of the aging population and the fact they often left their home country. We need to look at health service provisions to the elderly.

Parvanova (ALDE, BG) agreed and called for national preparedness plans on how they would cope with the increasing number of elderly on the health care system. Dalli said this was a priority area for him and they must ensure the sustainability of healthcare systems to ensure “healthy productive” aging (emphasis on both words). E-health could be an important factor here and he welcomed the fact the Spanish Presidency in the Cross Border proposal had reinforced the Commission's wording on more coordinating role to ensure e-health was promoted.

Other Issues

Tobacco: Dalli said he would revise the Tobacco Products Directive to cover new products on the market, to improve health warning s and provide better protection to the young. Liese (EPP, DE) warned that public would oppose any attempts by the EU to impose smoking bans and this was best left to MS. He hoped direct subsidies to tobacco production would now stop. Dalli replied that the EU would not impose a ban but try and encourage MS in that direction. Subsidies should be stopped next year, but they would then need to find a new budget to fund anti-smoking campaigns.

Alcohol: Childers (S&D, IE) called for a research programme on the health consequences of alcohol and called on him to build on the Swedish Presidency conclusions and take bolder action ie on prices. Dalli agreed they needed research on all health determinants but there were resource constraints. They should invest more in prevention campaigns where the Commission can play a role.

Innovation: Dalli wanted to see “responsible innovation” that took account of risks and safety and the benefits also needed to be explained better. We need a more inclusive debate on science.

Animal welfare: Soullie (EPP, FR) welcomed the fact animal welfare was now covered by article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty. She felt many cosmetic tests could be done without tests and they should revise the Cosmetics Directive. Dalli said there would be a new animal health law with a clearer regulatory structure and a communication on protection and welfare.

Mental health was raised by Pirillo (S&D, IT) who called for more research and pointed out that MS treatment protocols differed.

Food imports: Ayuso (EPP, ES) complained that the same levels of food safety were not seen in imports ie canned fish from SE Asia and we need more checks at the start and end of the food chain

Food imitating products: Weisgerber (EPP, DE) welcomed his support at his Hearing for clearer labelling on this.