Food Safety & Public Health
Linda is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Food Safety and Public Health and the lead spokesperson for Labour on these issues. She has played the lead role in developing new legislation which will give us far better information about the content of the food we eat and the safety of the medicines we take.
Linda has been closely involved with drafting new legislation to make the origin and content of the food we eat more transparent. The issue is important if consumers are to be able to exercise informed choices on health, animal welfare, the economy and the environment. Yet, at present, the information consumers need is at best lacking, or at worst, misleading.
Currently, food producers can label meat products as 'British' if the animals are processed or packaged in the UK, even if they have been reared and slaughtered abroad - something that has been bitterly opposed by UK farmers. Similarly, food manufacturers can currently label a product as low fat but not state that it may instead contain high levels of salt and sugar.
Changes being made to EU legislation will prevent these practices and introduce an EU-wide standard. The genuine country of origin of food will have to be clearly labelled on the front of packaging. Food producers will also no longer be able to pick and choose what nutritional information they include on packaging. Instead, they will be required to provide details of the levels of salt, sugar and fats in their products. Labour MEPs also argued for a traffic-light system to enable busy consumers to quickly and easily identify products that have high or low levels of specific nutrients but this proposal was turned down. Linda also led MEP demands to prevent the development of cloning of animals for the food chain, as experts studies show the technique involves unnecessary suffering for animals. However, this move was blocked by a number of national governments, led by the coalition government in the UK. She is now pushing the European Commission to come forward with fresh legislation on cloning.
Safety of Medicines
Currently, almost 200,000 patients die every year in the EU as a result of adverse reactions to medicines, with many thousands more suffering serious side effects. The most famous case of an adverse reaction was thalidomide in the late 1950s, but adverse reactions can occur with any new drug. Although clinical trials are conducted on all new medicines before they are made publicly available, many less obvious side effects only become evident once a drug is in use among the wider population.
This is why Linda believes we need better systems for picking up on potential problems with medicines and faster action to withdraw medicines when problems occur. At present, the public have no way of knowing whether a drug they have been prescribed is a new product with potentially unidentified side effects. If a patient notices side effects from a drug they are taking, many are unsure what to do and side effects are not reported to the relevant authorities. Furthermore, there is no Europe-wide system for quickly collating all reported side effects meaning side effects detected in one country may not be flagged up elsewhere.
New legislation from the EU on medicine safety, the Pharmacovigilance Directive, which Linda steered through the European Parliament, will change matters. A black triangle symbol will be included in the leaflets accompanying medicines to denote drugs that are new to the market enabling patients to identify them quickly. Patients from across Europe will be able to report side effects they experience directly to a new website and find information on the known side effects of any drug. New drugs will be closely monitored for five years. The information gathered on the website will be collated by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to form a common database that informs regulatory agencies across the EU. And coordination procedures to withdraw a medicine or change its usage are being speeded up across Europe so that if problems occur in one country, action is taken across Europe.