In the face of another rejection of a European Union treaty, the bloc's food industry has one glaring path ahead: business as normal.
The Lisbon Treaty had been slammed by some in the industry, and applauded by others in the heated run-up to the Irish referendum this month. The rejection from Irish voters - who were the only ones to be offered a referendum on Lisbon - must now be swallowed with a spoonful of sugar and no useless debate. Because, in essence, the treaty would not have had any major impact on the industry. Industry positions Earlier this month, the Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) kicked up strong opposition to the treaty, claiming that like all "draconian Brussels laws" it would benefit conservative players and large firms, while damaging small companies and the more liberated Irish market in general. On the other end of the spectrum, the trade group Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII) backed the treaty, saying it was crucial to have an efficient EU framework for monitoring a fully integrated supply chain in an export-led industry. However, during the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty and other EU treaties before it (the EU constitution in 2005 and the Nice Treaty in 2001), the European wheels have continued to grind, directives and regulations have continued to roll in, and they continue to do so. Legislation as normal One of the main objections cited by IAHS was the setting of maximum levels for nutrients in food supplements, which could have damaged smaller industry players if governed under a more centralized European power. According to IAHS spokesperson Erica Murray, high-dose products currently on the market (and manufactured mainly by small firms) would be hard hit if levels are capped too high. But the Lisbon Treaty would not have played any role in the setting of maximum levels in supplements. The Commission, which has already initiated the process, and which has sought consultation from member states, is expected to issue a proposal towards the end of the year. With this piece of legislation, as with all food legislation, the actors involved would still be the Commission - as the one in charge of proposing legislation - and the Council (i.e. member states) and Parliament as the ones adopting it, explained Lorène Courrège, director of regulatory affairs at the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM). "Some operators are concerned about the levels that will be proposed by the Commission as current practice in their market allows them to use high levels, which is not the case in other member states," she told NutraIngredients.com. "This is the case in Ireland, although the official response of the government to the Commission consultation clearly stated that their policy would be to allow rather low levels of vitamins and minerals, contrary to what seems to be the actual market practice in Ireland." EU competitiveness Swinging back to the other end of the debate, FDII's support of the treaty was rooted in the economic growth argument. By reforming how decisions are made in the EU, making the bloc more efficient and effective, the treaty would have ensured continued economic growth and prosperity, fostering the export-led growth of the food and drink sector, said the group. However, as pointed out by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), there was very little in the Lisbon Treaty that would actually enhance the business landscape. According to the group, which lobbies for British businesses, the treaty did not deliver "on the issues that matter" for businesses, in the sense that it did not contribute to a competitive Europe. The EU "should now focus on ensuring it creates and maintains a competitive environment for business and citizens alike," says CBI. And in the meantime, the European food industry must simply return from the distractions of the school yard and get back to work. Lorraine Heller is editor of NutraIngredients-USA.com and is a specialist writer on food industry issues. With an international focus, she has lived and worked in the UK, Cyprus and France.
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