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Sunday, January 24, 1999 Published at 05:43 GMT


Food agency delays 'could cost lives'

The E.coli virus: A deadly problem

A food safety expert has warned that further delays in setting up a Food Standards Agency could cost lives.

The BBC's Alva McNicol: Project has been dogged by delays
Prof Hugh Pennington, author of the report on the E.coli outbreak that killed 21 people in Scotland in 1997, said that if the long-awaited agency had been in place lives could have been saved.

Prof Pennington told BBC One's Country File in a programme broadcast on Sunday: "The E-coli outbreak was not an act of God - it happened because people weren't doing the right things in food safety.

[ image: Hugh Pennington:
Hugh Pennington: "People weren't doing the right things"
"A food agency might have sharpened things up and might have therefore prevented it.

"Politicians disregard food safety at their peril. No-one can say we have had the last food scare and the politicians all get blamed for that, so they will only have themselves to blame when we have the next outbreak and they've done nothing to prevent it."

The government is expected to publish the draft bill for the FSA on Wednesday, more than a year after former Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham first announced the plans.

Since then controversy has dogged the proposed body, particularly on the issue of who will foot the bill.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the programme he was "absolutely determined" to establish the agency before the end of the year.

But he added: "There are other sensitivities to be considered. We want to make sure we consult fully before the final legislative phase."

It was revealed this week that the government is to propose the £100m-a-year cost largely be met by an annual levy of £100 on each of the 600,000 shops, hotels, restaurants and other food premises in Britain.

Calls to set up the FSA came to a head following the outbreak of BSE in 1996.

Food safety campaigners argued that the responsibility for such matters should be independent of industry and government influence.

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