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EDITIONS
Food Safety Tuesday, 26 January, 1999, 20:20 GMT
Food Standards Agency for UK
Agency aims to boost consumer confidence after recent food scares
The UK will get its Food Standards Agency (FSA) sometime before the end of 1999.

It will assume many of the powers currently invested in the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), which has been in the impossible position of trying to protect consumers and to promote producers.

This contradiction was vividly and frequently illustrated in the BSE fiasco.

Jack Cunningham: "a poweful new body."
The most notable example was in March 1997 when it emerged that MAFF had been concealing a report from the Meat Hygiene Service on standards of cleanliness in abattoirs.

When the Agriculture Minister, Jack Cunningham, unveiled plans for an FSA in the House of Commons, he said the agency would be "a powerful new body, able to publish its advice to ministers, free of vested interests and able to act clearly and decisively at all stages of the food chain."

The FSA will have 12 independent commissioners with a wide range of expertise, backed by advisory committees and civil servants.

FSA responsibilities:

  • monitoring the safety and standards of all food for human consumption.
  • ead or share policy on food poisoning organisms, animal feed, food hygiene, genetically modified food and other novel processes, food additives, chemicals and labelling.
  • co-ordinating and monitoring law enforcement.
  • commissioning scientific research.
  • advising on diet and nutrition.

Mr Cunningham said the new organisation would not tell people what to eat, but would ensure they had the information they needed to make choices.

He said it would also help business by having the credibility to reassure consumers about food when necessary.

The agency will have powers to advise people on healthy eating
It would adopt the best available authoritative scientific advice and act in a way that was "open, consultative and transparent" and would be fully accountable to the public and to Parliament. It would report to the Department of Health.

Independent advisory committees are proposed for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Funding for the agency, estimated to cost more than 100m-a-year, would come primarily from a new licensing scheme for food businesses.

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the 50bn a year industry, has warned that any extra costs will amount to a "tax on food by the back door" and lead to price rises falling on consumers.

Plans for the agency are based on proposals made by Professor Philip James in a preliminary report in April 1997.

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Excerpt from Jack Cunningham's statement in the House of Commons (3'20")
Links to more Food Safety stories are at the foot of the page.


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