After days of speculation, the UK coalition government today (20 July) outlined how it plans to change the role of the Food Standards Agency, the country’s food watchdog. Here is how industry and campaigners reacted to the news.
“We … support the decision to move responsibility for nutrition, and other food policy issues, back into Government departments. This should lead to clearer and more consistent policy making, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort across Whitehall. The FSA has helped to create an environment in which public confidence in the food they eat has grown significantly in recent years and it makes sense to build on that by focusing the Agency’s future activities on safety and hygiene issues” – Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation.
“How Government chooses to allocate these responsibilities is not the priority. What matters to us is the end result for customers and businesses. Any government changes must leave us with a structure that does as good a job for customers and businesses as the FSA has done in the past. UK-wide retailers need consistency. We’ve yet to hear how this will work In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Effective delivery of health and nutrition campaigns requires good co-ordination. Avoiding a fragmented food policy is now the challenge for government departments and the devolved assemblies” – British Retail Consortium food policy director Andrew Opie.
“We support shifting the responsibility for nutrition back to the Department of Health. I believe it is better to have all aspects of the population’s health and wellbeing within the same department. It also makes sense for Defra – with its understanding of food production and manufacturing – to take on responsibility for country of origin labelling. This is a very important area for the dairy industry, and a very complex one, where we look forward to working with Defra. Of course, what we need now is clarity on how all these areas work across the devolved administrations of the UK” – Dairy UK director general Jim Begg.
“What the FSA provided was a one-stop shop. To split food safety and nutrition was an unwise thing to do. By splitting nutrition from food safety, you get policies that aren’t holistic and which aren’t in the best interests of consumers and children’s health” – The Children’s Food Campaign.
“The Food Standards Agency has revolutionised the way food issues are handled in UK, so we’re pleased today’s announcement ensures it can continue to independently monitor food safety. Unfortunately, some issues that would be best handled by the FSA have been moved to other departments. With these changes the government must ensure the interests of consumers remain at the heart of food policy” – Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith.
“Nutrition policy fits well with the other public health and obesity work that the Department of Health is doing so this is a sensible move. Individual foods and nutrients cannot be looked at in isolation and lifestyle is all important. The transfer of country-of-origin labelling to Defra also makes sense, considering ministers’ commitment to improve the legislation in this area and we hope this means that the impact on the farming sector and consumers is well understood. Consumers recognise and trust the work of the FSA and this is valuable to everyone in the food chain given the potential impact of food scares. There remains a clear need to deal with food safety issues using a science-based, measured and non-political approach and it is imperative that this good work continues” – NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser Dr Helen Ferrier.