Blog: Horse meat Food Standards Agency budget cuts
Chris Mercer | 17 January 2013
The horse meat story highlights how reliant regulatory authorities are on the private sector to police its own food supply chain. Spare a thought, then, for the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) shrinking budget.
Several Members of the UK Parliament, and the UK's main opposition party as a whole, have questioned why the horse meat-laced beef burgers were not picked up sooner and why the FSA had to rely on routine sampling by its counterpart body in Ireland to raise the alarm.
It's an impossible question in many ways, because we don't yet know how long this has been going on and also because, quite rightly, Ireland's food officials argue that the findings actually underscore the importance of routine testing - which did spot the problem.
Still, in assessing wider implications, it's useful to note the budgetary pressure on UK FSA.
In its annual report for the year to the end of March 2012, its now ex-CEO, Tim Smith, wrote a reminder that the watchdog is committed to a 33% drop in real-terms spending up to the 2014/15 financial year.
The cuts began following the Coalition Government's 2010 spending review.
Smith, who is this week leading Tesco's crisis management strategy after leaving FSA to be the retailer's global technical director in September last year, added: "By the end of 2011/12, against the 2010/11 baseline budget of GBP118m, costs have been reduced by GBP27m.
"This represents cash savings of GBP8m (16%) in administration and GBP19m (28%) in programme expenditure. The savings have been achieved through central Government controls on marketing and consultancy and through our own internal efficiencies." Staff numbers were down by 13%.
In addition to this, the FSA had to allocate significant resources to food safety work around the London Olympics last year.
Plus, the cuts at FSA need to be combined with financial pressure on local councils, which bear the brunt of fieldwork in terms of spotting food safety, hygiene risk and mislabelling.
All of which could further reduce the power of the public regulator to spot problems, at the same time as putting ever-greater emphasis on the supply chain to police itself.
"This is an illustration of how food systems work on trust," said professor Tim Lang, of City University London's Food Policy Centre, yesterday. Has the trust been spread too thin?
Tyson Foods has completed its US$8.55bn acquisition of Hillshire Brands, with shares in the Jimmy Dean sausage maker delisted before the market opened today (29 August) - and its CEO leaving the busin...
New Zealand dairy group Synlait Milk revealed today (28 August) it has hit the "major milestone" of receiving regulatory clearance to begin exporting finished product from its new NZ$28.5m dry blendin...
ConAgra Foods has responded to investor criticism of its palm oil usage by committing to source 100% sustainable palm oil by December 2015....
Fresh produce growers in the EU have secured assistance from the European Commission in the wake of the Russian embargo and Brussels has indicated it would be prepared to step in again....
- BRICs and beyond: Fonterra, Beingmate partnership
- Consuming issues: The hunger-obesity paradox
- On the money: Hormel still looking for M&A
- On the money: Mengniu hones in on "star" brands
- just-food interview: Agropur CEO Robert Coallier
- Fonterra, Beingmate launch infant formula JV
- Mondelez eyes snacks categories in India
- Parmalat nears Lacteos Brasil acquisition
- UK firm Pasta Reale enters administration
- Italy yoghurt woes lead to Emmi profit warning