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Food Safety Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
FSA: A recipe borrowed from America
The Food Safety Agency aims to reassure consumers
Consumer groups and government ministers have described the new Food Standards Agency planned for the UK as "long overdue".

The food scares that prompted the creation of the agency may not have occurred if it had existed 10 years ago.

Some countries already have powerful, independent agencies to check on the safety of their food. America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has wide-ranging powers to protect the consumer.

The organisation is first and foremost a public health agency, responsible for seeing that food and medicines are safe. But its authority reaches beyond the food remit proposed for our own FSA, and covers cosmetics, bloods supplies and radiation-emitting products such as microwave ovens.

With some 9,000 employees, the organisation monitors the manufacture, import, transport, storage and sale of billions of dollars' worth of goods every year.

Product safety

The FDA routinely tests samples to check for unacceptable amounts of substances such as pesticides. It also checks that medicated feeds and other drugs given to animals raised for food do not threaten the population's health - an area which will be covered by the FSA.

The country's blood supply also comes under FDA jurisdiction, with routine tests on blood bank operations. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration decides whether new drugs are safe and effective enough to be used by the public.

Food samples are tested for pesticide residues
If a company is found to be violating any of the laws that the administration enforces, it can be made to correct the problem if it fails to do so voluntarily.

The FDA has legal sanctions it can bring to bear to stop a product being sold. It can also have items seized and destroyed. And it can go to court to force a company to comply. When warranted, criminal penalties, including prison sentences, are sought against manufacturers and distributors.

More than 1,000 investigators and inspectors visit facilities across America.

As part of their inspections, they collect tens of thousands of domestic and imported product samples for examination by FDA scientists.

Critics argue that the UK's Food Standards Agency will need to wield similar powers to co-ordinate food law enforcement effectively.

Scientific Experts

Legal cases are backed up by evidence prepared by more than 2,000 FDA scientists, including chemists and microbiologists.

FDA scientists also review test results submitted by companies seeking agency approval for drugs, vaccines, food additives and medical devices.

The Food Standards Agency will have the power to commission scientific research and development policies.

But it will differ from the FDA in its public health remit, which has been applauded by consumer groups and criticised by farmers.

The agency will provide information and advice on healthy eating, although the Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham said there will be no "telling people what to eat".

Links to more Food Safety stories are at the foot of the page.

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