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Consumer health protection is more than just food safety

06/2001, 02.02.2001

The fact that consumer health protection extends far beyond food safety became obvious at a meeting staged by BgVV yesterday for representatives of consumer protection, animal protection and environmental protection associations in Berlin. The seminar focussed on three subjects and the objectives were an exchange of opinion and the elaboration of joint positions. The explosive issue was the national transposition of the EU Directive on Biocides overdue since 1999 which is to ensure both consumers and professional users greater safety at last when handling wood preservatives, pesticides and other biocidal products. There are around 20,000 products of this kind on the German market. Authorisation-like details are only available for some of them. Up to now, most of them have not undergone any authorisation procedure and, thus, their safety has not been assessed.

Biocides are toxins and therefore to be viewed in principle as critical. Given their properties and their forms of use, biocide products may constitute a risk for man, animals and the environment. Pesticides are intended to kill living organisms (insects and spiders). They offer protection from pests and the diseases transmitted by them, they help to ward off nuisances and safeguard products. Potential risks must be weighed against benefits. BgVV calls for the largest possible degree of safety in the marketing and handling of biocidal products which can only be offered by an authorisation procedure. Experience in Germany shows that in particular pesticides and wood preservatives are frequently not used correctly. Health impairment and health damage are the result. Safety decisions must, therefore, adopt a different slant when it comes to consumer products than for professional products. Specific, risk related products (like e.g. pyrethroid-containing pesticides) or application methods (spraying etc.) may not be used in the opinion of BgVV for consumer products. The risk-benefit decision must, therefore, be based not only on the recommendation or instructions for use but also on how the consumer actually handles the product. Any possible misuse by the consumer must be taken into account in the safety decision. Instructions on use must be formulated in such an easily understandable manner that they provide the consumer with additional information.

In the chemical law provisions of the European Union the principle of risk avoidance prevails and not the precautionary principle on which BgVV actions are based. The next logical step would be to adapt chemical law along the lines of the Biocides Directive.

Questions of labelling (and advertising) were also addressed in conjunction with other subjects at the seminar. With the proposals BgVV is continuing its initiative for more effective and consumer-friendly labelling which began with proposals for a clearer design of labels (cf. bgvv Press release 04/2001 of 30 January).

With the current labelling provisions consumers are not able to identify foods produced with the help of genetic engineering but which cannot be distinguished from conventional products using the analytical methods available. In the interests of consumers who wish to make their purchase decision dependent for ethical or other reasons on whether a food was manufactured or not using genetically modified organisms, BgVV believes it is necessary to extend the currently valid labelling provisions. The obligation to label all foods produced from or with genetically modified organisms would, however, mean the establishment of a comprehensive (Europe-wide) documentation system which would supplement current controls with analytical methods from food monitoring. BgVV is of the opinion that, in future, in principle all ingredients including the individual ingredients of a composite ingredient should be stated for foods in order to create more transparency in the declaration of foods. The uniform presentation of nutrient details would also make it easier for the consumer to understand the data about the nutrient value of a food and facilitate comparison with other products. All the same, only relevant nutrients should be declared in order to improve consumer information.

Finally, BgVV is of the opinion that the ban on disease-related advertising for foods should be upheld. The Institute will defend this demand within the bodies of Codex Alimentarius. There are deficits in advertising when it comes to protection against misleading advertising. Joint guidelines with food monitoring and increased information to consumers should improve this situation in future. BgVV would like to continue its meetings with representatives of consumer protection, animal protection and environmental protection organisations particularly with a view to the bundling and strengthening of consumer protection desired on the political level. In the opinion of BgVV close co-operation and communication on consumer health protection is the prerequisite for efficient scientific advice to the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture with due consideration of the justified interests of consumers.


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