New transatlantic spat over precaution

US official criticises EU approach ahead of international talks on food safety

A senior US official has criticised EU attempts to introduce the precautionary principle into environment and food safety policy making ahead of international talks on food safety. Catherine Wotecki, under-secretary for food safety in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Wednesday that the EU's use of precaution often appeared to be an attempt to portray trade barriers as food safety issues.

The European Commission released a communication on the precautionary principle in February, including guidelines on how it should be defined and used (ENDS Daily 2 February). Speaking at a public meeting, Dr Wotecki said that the paper was vague, contained an inadequate definition of the principle, and probably didn't provide an adequate basis for making decisions.

Her comments come before two sets of international talks on food safety issues, at which the EU and the USA are set to cross swords over precaution. Next week, the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) ad hoc group on food safety meets, while a key committee of the global food standard setting agency Codex Alimentarius meets in mid-April.

Dr Wotecki said she looked forward to discussing the use of the precautionary principle with the EU at the two meetings. USDA sent a background paper on precaution in US food safety decision making to the OECD on Tuesday, which was presented for discussion at Wednesday's public meeting. It has also prepared a response to the EU precautionary principle paper for submission to the Codex Alimentarius meeting in April.

Follow Up:
USDA, tel: +1 202 720 2791.

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