The UK government has formally endorsed an EC proposal for the establishment of a European Food Agency.

In its formal response to the EC White Paper, published in January this year, the government supports the establishment of the European agency, recognising the need to adopt a more coherent and effective approach to food safety policy and decision making at EU level.

But, says the response, there is concern that the proposals, as set out in the White Paper, do not fully address the need to integrate the processes of risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication. The response states: “The key attributes of such a body must be scientific excellence, openness, independence of commercial interests, and a determination to act in the interests of consumers. The responsibilities and resources assigned to it must enable it to command the respect of consumers, industry, and national authorities.”

Among other, more detailed comments, the response suggests that: the closest possible linkage must be established between risk assessment, risk management (identification of appropriate regulatory action), and risk communication; the EUFA should be responsible for communicating a single, coherent message on both risk assessment and risk management; an obligation should be placed on the European Commission to respond in a timely way to any recommendations of the EUFA; a consultative committee of the heads of national agencies should be established to help the EUFA in its work; and more consideration needs to be given to effective arrangements for crisis management.

The response also comments on the scope and remit of the proposed authority, and says that the UK government awaits more detailed Commission proposals on its status and accountability. It suggests that the new authority should report annually to the Council of Ministers, the Commission, and the European Parliament, as well as making such reports publicly available.

Gisela Stuart, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health – who has responsibility for food safety and standards – said of the response: “We have led the way in setting up the UK Food Standards Agency, which opened for business just two months ago. It is independent, and a beacon of openness and accessibility. It exists to put the consumer first by providing clear information and advice on all food-related matters. Its remit covers the whole of the food chain, from farm to fork.

“The Commission’s proposals do not envisage any changes in implementation and control of food safety measures, which will remain the responsibility of Member States. But I hope that the Commission’s further proposals, due out later this year, will mirror many of the principles on which our Food Standards Agency has been established.”

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, added: “I welcomed the EC White Paper when it was published and I am pleased to do so again. Any refinement or harmonisation of food safety and standards within the European Union is to be welcomed, particularly in light of the large volume of food which is exported from this country and imported into it. The EUFA will need to work constructively with national food agencies and authorities, at the same time ensuring that there is no unnecessary overlap of national and pan-European responsibilities.”