The European Commission has unveiled a sweeping reform of food safety legislation, giving itself more powers to take emergency steps in crises such as the dioxin poisoning scare.
EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said the new framework, which follows a series of recent food scares in Europe, would increase consumer protection from farm to table.
"I am satisfied that we can give EU citizens concrete reassurances that we have considerably improved the legal framework on risks in the food and feed chain," Byrne said in a statement.
"These are tools for acting quickly, decisively and effectively, wherever and whenever a food problem arises."The Commission's new powers cover the potential suspension of the marketing of a particular food or feed and demanding its recall from shops or other sales outlets.
"Such measures can be taken where it is evident that a feed or food originating in the EU, or imported from a third country, is likely to constitute a serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment," the Commission said.
During the dioxin crisis in 1999, when Belgian food became contaminated with potentially cancer-causing chemicals, the Commission had to seek the permission of member states before it could order products to be suspended and recalled.
The new legislation also introduces a "rapid alert system" for animal feed, extending a current scheme applicable to food only. This means member states must inform other countries and the Commission of any risk to human health posed by animal feed.
A recent scare in Germany over feed tainted with a potentially lethal antibiotic highlighted the gap in EU law covering notification and increased calls for a more comprehensive rapid alert system.
The new laws also streamlines the Commission's advisory system, spelling the end of the Standing Veterinary Committee (SVC) which, with other panels on plant health, animal nutrition and foodstuffs, will be replaced by a single structure - the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.