Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 23:13 GMT
Row over food watchdog
The agency will be champion of consumer interests
Small retailers have condemned a flat-rate levy to pay for a new food watchdog to monitor health and safety standards as a "food poll tax".
But plans to charge an annual flat rate charge of £90 on all food outlets to fund the cost of setting up the new agency has already met with criticism.
He told BBC News: "All the government is proposing is a small additional charge of £90 a year, that's the cost of one extra sandwich a week."
The levy will be collected by local authorities and is expected to raise £40m. The balance of the £120m cost of the agency will be picked up by the tax-payer.
The agency will have a staff of 2,000 people and will be run by a chairman and up to 14 independent members.
"Central government will have a role with local government and the work of environmental health officers to reinforce work that is currently undertaken.
"It will mean policy is focused for the first time in an independent agency and if something needs to be done by government the agency can say so and put their recommendations into the public domain."
The agency will be free publish its advice to the government and will report to the Department of Health rather than the Ministry of Agriculture.
A Food Standards Agency was a manifesto commitment by Labour following a series of food scares.
The beef crisis, an E.coli epidemic in Scotland, scares over salmonella in eggs and a possible link between milk and Crohn's disease are among the issues which have rocked consumer confidence in the food industry.
It will have responsibility for:
The agency is based on the suggestions of Professor Phillip James, director of the Rowett Research Institute, who was asked to report on how an agency should function before the election.
"It's going to have enforcement powers and I think it is going to have to take a novel approach to looking at the food chain as a whole. Practises on the farm actually affect our health, previously its all been locked up in different groupings."
The proposals for an agency have been broadly welcomed by consumer groups who have long complained about Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The department has been criticised for having the duty to protect consumers at the same time as promoting producers.
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