Europe's free trade will come under scrutiny Julian Hunt, Uppsala, Sweden European farm ministers are being urged to adopt a more holistic approach towards the food chain in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis and the spread of BSE. Margareta Winberg, Sweden's agriculture minister, who currently chairs the European Farm Council, said one of her priorities was to examine whether free trade in Europe contributed to the outbreak of diseases by encouraging animals, feedstuffs and food to be transported vast distances across the continent. She said: "In the case of BSE we know that it happened through animal feed and we know we have stopped this. But in the case of diseases such as foot and mouth we have to think about the transport of animals. Should it be possible to transport such long distances as we do today? My thinking is no'. We should promote smaller slaughterhouses in countries to lower transport times. We are discussing it, but we don't have the right answers yet." Winberg wants the Commission to come up with concrete proposals in time for an informal meeting of agriculture ministers in April. She is also backing a new directive on the way pigs are kept, which will be discussed at the same meeting. But even though the foot and mouth crisis continues to grow, the Swedish minister refused to criticise the way the outbreak had been handled. "I can't judge the UK. But Nick Brown reported very soon in the council of ministers about this and he gave a detailed report. As far as I am aware, member states and the Commission have handled it very quickly." Winberg also supported the policy of slaughtering infected animals, even though there are reports that welfare issues are being ignored in the rush to cull them. Winberg was speaking to The Grocer following the official opening of a major conference on food safety in Uppsala ­ organised as part of Sweden's presidency. She told those attending: "Our responsibility for food production extends from the soil and fishing waters all the way to the dining table and finally waste management. Every link in the food chain is significant ­ we must therefore take an holistic view in which the goal is safe, sustainable and ethical food production." {{NEWS }}