Blog: Dean BestUnder-fire FSA tries to strike a balance

Dean Best | 26 March 2010

Speak to most food manufacturers - or Conservative Party officials for that matter - and the UK's Food Standards Agency tends to get a bit of a bashing.

The FSA's critics believe the agency has strayed too far away away from what they see as its core remit - overseeing food safety in the UK - and some in the industry not doubt have been pleased at noises from the Tories that, should they win at the polls in May, they will reduce the agency's powers.

Some in the industry have seen the FSA has being far too prescriptive in the area of health and wellness and far too keen to push through its own agenda at the expense of manufacturers and retailers, particularly on the issue of nutrition labelling (although one would hope this month's recommendation of a "hybrid" labelling model will go some way to appeasing opponents).

However, today's (26 March) publication of guidelines on cuts in saturated fat and added sugar in chocolate, cakes and the like demonstrate the willingness of the FSA to engage with industry and listen to its concerns.

While the FSA has recommended that food businesses cut saturated fat in certain products and make it easier for consumers to buy smaller products, the agency has also recognised the hard work firms have already put in to reformulate their products - and realised how tough it is to change products to meet the new guidelines.

Witness, for instance, the FSA's decision to give companies longer to make a 5% cut in the level of saturated fat in non-plain biscuits and cakes.

Health campaigners no doubt wanted - and still want - the FSA to urge industry to go faster and deeper in its cuts but the agency is fully aware it needs the manufacturers and retailers onside in pushing through what remain voluntary guidelines.

And the industry seems satisfied with the conciliatory approach.

"We are pleased that the Food Standards Agency has recognised the successful work undertaken by food companies and the complexities involved with further reformulation efforts," the Food and Drink Federation said today.

Changing the recipe of a product is indeed complex. The FSA's detractors should realise the agency's work is just as complicated.


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