The prospect of a European food authority with independent powers to provide authoritative scientific advice to EU member states has been raised by the new commissioner for health and consumer protection, David Byrne.

Mr Byrne told a recent meeting of the European Health Council - including the UK representative, junior health minister Gisela Stuart - that the EU would publish a 'farm to the table' white paper on the issue this month.

He also outlined European Commission legislative proposals to tighten up the labelling of cigarette packets, including prohibition of the use of terms such as 'low tar', 'ultra-light', 'light' and 'mild'.

Former barrister Mr Byrne, who is Irish, told a separate conference in Dublin in November that the commission was giving the issue of food safety 'top priority'.

A European food agency was one way of ensuring that the EU got independent scientific advice and remained publicly accountable, he told delegates.

He conceded that BSE, and the use of sewage sludge in animal feeds, had battered consumer confidence in food safety.

He argued that there needed to be a new EU regulatory framework to standardise good food safety practice across the EU.

Commission proposals on tobacco seek to lower the tar levels and set tighter nicotine and carbon monoxide yield limits for cigarettes. Warnings on cigarette packets would be bigger and draw attention to links between smoking and certain diseases, smoking's addictive nature and the danger it poses for pregnant women.