One of the favourite books of David Byrne, the new European commissioner for health and consumer protection, is reputed to be Gulliver's Travels by fellow Irishman Jonathan Swift.

He may well take solace in its satirical exaggeration of humanity's achievements as he ponders why he exchanged the relative quiet of being Ireland's attorney general for Brussels' Byzantine politics.

He says he gave up 'the best job a lawyer can have' for the chance to make policy rather than advise others.

He was launched headlong into EU politics as he stood firm amid the AngloFrench haggling over BSE.

He has also acted promptly on Belgium's dioxin in cattle scare, won support for an emergency ban on baby toys made from polyvinyl chloride softened with phthalates, and launched the latest phase of the EU campaign against cigarette smoking.

Nevertheless, some say he made a disappointing start. Facing MEPs at his 'confirmation' in September he was criticised for being 'over cautious' as he 'stuck to his brief ' over subsidies for tobacco farmers.

Mr Byrne has promised a white paper on food safety fully implemented by 2002, with proper food labelling for genetically modified organisms and a phased end to growth-promoting antibiotics in animal feeds.