Following a string of food safety crises, many countries have set up food standards agencies. With BSE currently extending its reach across Europe and a new EU food safety authority looming, the time is ripe for just-food.com to take a look. Starting with the US and the UK, in the coming weeks we'll be profiling the key agencies. What are their objectives, and just how powerful are they?

Country: USA

Name: President's Council on Food Safety / FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

History:

On August 25, 1998 the President, by Executive Order 13100, established the President's Council on Food Safety, with the aim of improving the safety of the food supply through science-based regulation and well coordinated inspection, enforcement, research and educational programmes. The purpose of the Council is to protect the health of the American people by preventing foodborne illness.

Objectives and Responsibilities:

  • Develop and upgrade periodically a comprehensive strategic Federal food safety plan. This plan will address public health, resource and management questions facing Federal food safety agencies. The planning process will consider both short-term and long-term issues, including new and emerging threats to the nation's food supply. The Council will hold public meetings to engage consumers, producers, industry, foodservice providers, retailers, health professionals, State and local governments, tribes, academia and the public in the strategic planning process.
  • Consistent with the strategic plan, advise Federal agencies of priority areas for investment in food safety and work with member agencies in developing annual food safety budgets for submission to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to sustain and strengthen priority activities on food safety, eliminate duplication, and ensure the most effective use of resources for achieving the goals of the plan.
  • Oversee the Joint Institute for Food Safety Research (JIFSR). The Council will evaluate reports from JIFSR on food safety research activities and give direction to JIFRS on research needed to establish the most effective possible food safety system.
  • Evaluate and report to the President on the National Academy of Science (NAS) report, "Ensuring Safe Food from Production to Consumption."

Comments:

  • The FDA's responsibilities do not extend to the entire food chain. Control of the use of pesticides and residues of agricultural chemicals in post-farm gate products is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency. The briefs for sponsoring American farming falls to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this respect, the US regime could be characterised as exhibiting not just a separation of policy making but a fragmentation. (Tim Lang, Erik Millstone & Mike Rayner, Centre for Food Policy, Thames Valley University, London)
  • The responsibilities of the US food safety council do not extend to powers of enforcement, as specified, inter alia, in the Charter of The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which has a wide range of powers enabling it to trace all food products from 'farm to fork. The FSAI also has full powers to enter premises, seize documents and samples and even issue closure orders and to prohibit the sale of food considered unfit for human consumption.

Country: UK

Name: UK Food Standard Agency

History:

The UK Food Standards Agency is a new organisation established by Act of Parliament (The Standard Food Act 1999). The Agency has been created to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food and otherwise the interests of consumers in relation to food.

In a statement delivered in October 2000 by Professor Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the UK Food Standards Agency, Prof Krebs said, inter alia, that "Food safety is an issue which affects every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom. It is a high priority for the Government and devolved administrations. Just as those who produce and sell food are responsible for its safety, consumers have a role to play in ensuring that the food we eat is handled safely. We will be judged by how we act, and we are clear that our behaviour must match our intentions. Our core values - putting the consumer first, openness and independence - underpin the delivery of our primary aim of protecting public health and interests of consumers in relation to food."
Structure:

The Food Standards Agency is led by a Board which has been appointed to act in the public interest, not to represent particular sectors. The Agency will account to Parliament through Health Ministers; to safeguard its independence it has the unique legal power to publish the advice it gives to the government. Its headquarters are based in London, with offices in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Meat Hygiene Service which also has the protection of public health as primary aim is now accountable to the Food Standards Agency.

Objectives and Responsibilities:

  • Develop effective policies relating to food safety
  • Provide clear, practical advice, information and other forms of assistance to all stakeholders - all the individuals and representative organisations who have a direct interest in the FSA's activities, or are likely to be affected by them
  • Build and maintain a reputation for expertise in matters connected with food safety
  • Maintain effective working links with devolved administrations
  • Make decisions and take action proportionate to the risk, and with due regard to costs and benefits
  • Ensure that the interests of UK consumers in relation to food are effectively promoted within the EU and in other international forums

Comments:

The three core values of the UK Food Standards Agency are: put the consumer first, be open and accessible, and be an independent voice. It is also specified that the Agency has the unique legal power to publish its advice to Government. There was no clear attribution to the aspect of enforcement by the Agency, as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has; and to an extent, as prescribed in the charter of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA).The UK Food Standard Agency points out that "We shall work in close partnership with enforcement authorities to ensure the effective and consistent enforcement of food law," and that in addition to enforcement activities, "the Food Standards Act 1999 also gives us powers of entry to carry our surveillance programmes in order to gather information on food safety and related matters, and to monitor relevant information actions. We will publish guidance on how these new powers will be used."

By Aaron Priel, just-food.com correspondent

To see PART TWO of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the Australia and Ireland Click Here

To see PART THREE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in the Canada and Sweden Click Here

To see PART FOUR of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Denmark and Germany Click Here

To see PART FIVE of this feature, focusing on National Food Standards Authorities in Finland and France Click Here