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Wednesday, 21 January, 1998, 07:57 GMT
A power in the making?
The Food Safety Agency aims to reassure consumers
The new Food Standards Agency planned for the UK has been described as "long overdue" by Government ministers.

The food scares which prompted the creation of the agency may not have occurred if it had existed ten 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 in its pursuit of protecting the consumer.

The FDA checks on medicated feeds and other animal drugs
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 of the Food Standards Agency and as far as cosmetics, blood 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 are not threatening to the population's health - an area which would be covered by the Food Standards Agency.

The country's blood supply also comes under FDA jurisdiction, with routine tests on blood bank operations.

The Food and Drug Administration also decides whether new drugs are safe and effective enough to be used by the public.

Enforcement powers

If a company is found to be violating any of the laws that the administration enforces, it can be forced to correct the problem if it fails to do so voluntarily.

Food samples are tested for pesticide residues
The FDA has legal sanctions it can bring to bear to stop a product being sold or have items seized and destroyed.

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.

The UK's Food Standards Agency will need to wield similar powers to coordinate food law enforcement effectively as planned.

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.

Public health

The Food Standards Agency 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 for healthy eating, although the Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham said there would be no "telling people what to eat".

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16 Jan 98 | UK
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