On Challenging Agenda of DG Health and Consumers: GM Foods, Tobacco, Pesticides, Cloning…

Written by | Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

INTERVIEW with Dr. Ladislav Miko – Deputy Director-General, European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers

The website of your Directorate-General declares that its main objective is “to make Europe a healthier, safer place, where consumers can be confident that their interests are protected.” Since the official website then also says that while “a zero-risk society may not be possible … we are doing as much as we can to reduce and manage risks for consumers,” could you please be more specific about the instruments and tools that your DG uses to, as it says, “make Europe a healthier, safer place…”?

Dr. Miko: This is a highly complex question – we have three major policies now covered by DG for Health and Consumers. One is consumers themselves, the second is the health issue, and the third – for which I am responsible – is related to the safety of the food. I can speak in detail on the food safety. I think that it is not reflected in the name of the DG but it actually constitutes a large part of our activities because we are overlooking that what every citizen in Europe is eating every day is safe and healthy. This area is basically regulated very deeply, we have the mandate to do the regulation but this is the regulation that allows the people to rely on what they buy in any shop in the European Union that it is safe enough to be eaten. And I think we have achieved this goal already and it is a little bit forgotten success. But without really controlling and checking the system that it is not abused, it would be potentially very dangerous for everyone. So that’s one.

EUBULLETIN: What does you DG focuses on in the area of health and consumers?

Dr. Miko: In the health, it is the issue of coordination – there is a lack of regulation, so we are developing some. But it is the coordination of activities in the member states and looking at the issues like trans-border diseases, or those related to the quality of life or for example to obesity. Lots of discussions have also been about the use of tobacco products, and we are also discussing issues of alcohol and other kinds of addiction – all those issues that negatively influence human life and cause dramatic health problems.

And the area of the consumers is a specific one because we have to basically follow the agenda and the development of policies which can affect the consumer and which can provide the consumers with the tools, like the way how to participate in the decision-making process and how to complain effectively if there is something wrong. So these are basically the key activities and policies that we are developing.

EUBULLETIN: You have mentioned the tobacco and you have also stressed the problems with alcohol and other kinds of addiction. If you were to be more specific, what are currently some of the other most salient issues or problems that give you most headaches and that your DG has been trying to tackle?

Dr. Miko: There are many but I will mention one that is never-ending in our discussions and which is about the use of genetically-modified organisms in the European Union, whether it is a strong reluctance on the one side and the potential benefits coming from the scientific circles on the other side. It is also the issue of using pesticide to increase the production of food on the one side and on the other side it is the potential harmful effects from pesticides to be avoided – so this is a very difficult discussion. We have also had a very difficult discussion about endocrine disruptors which is also a controversial issue. Furthermore, we are also discussing issues like cloning or novel food – so these are all things where the people are potentially afraid of and you have the potential for improvement but also a potential for harm and you have to find the right way of how to manage these issues.

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