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Tuesday, Apr 09, 2002

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EU's new food safety law raises eyebrows

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, April 8

THE European Union's new food legislation has raised the eyebrows in domestic circles which feel that the law gives the EU power to "unduly'' restrict the import of farm products into the region.

The new law, introduced in late February this year, provides for the use of `Precautionary Principle' with regard to food safety. Under this principle, protective measures can be taken even if a health risk is merely suspected of a product, though not proven.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), in a statement issued here on Monday, said that the precautionary principle was unwarranted because the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) Agreement of the WTO is sufficient for dealing with health-related risks from food and agri-commodities.

According to the apex chamber, Article 7 of the new regulation implies that if a product poses threats of harm to the environment or human health, protective measures under this principle can be initiates even if some causal relationships are not established scientifically.

FICCI feels that separating the alleged "threats of harm'' from the "cause and effect relationships'' the precautionary principle opens the door to arbitrariness. This is bound to impede and in some cases, even deny market access for India's agri-products, the association said.

The chamber pointed out that over the last decade, the principle had managed to gain a foothold in Europe and the EC had invoked it to block its imports on several occasions. A case in point is the dispute related to the EU ban on import meat and meat products raised using hormones from the US.

But since the health-risk of eating hormone-treated beef of these animals could not be proved, the WTO Appellate Body ruled that hte EU measures were not based on sufficient assessment of risk and hence found the measures to be a violation of the SPS Agreement.

The industry association has urged the Indian Government to take up the issue with its EC counterparts during the next India-EU Sub-Commission on Trade.

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