20 June 1997

Food agency farm representative is called for by NFU

By Shelley Wright

CALLS for a farmer representative on the new independent food agency have been made by the NFU.

Consultation on the wide ranging proposals for an agency covering the whole food chain, drafted by Philip James, director of Aberdeens Rowett Research Institute, closed today (Fri).

Prof James proposed that the agency should be governed by a commission of about 10 people, most of them representing consumer interests. Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, said the union had no problem with that, but believed there was a strong case for having a farmer representative, too.

Someone heavily involved in farm assurance would be ideal, bearing in mind the purpose of the agency was to restore and retain consumer confidence in food and the way it was produced, Mr Gardiner said.

And confidence was not an issue for consumers alone. The agency would have to operate in a way that provided confidence to the food industry as well. That would require openness, and decisions based both on science and practicality.

While the NFU accepted most of the proposals for the agency, it has rejected Prof Jamess plan to give the responsibility for the safety evaluation of pesticides and veterinary medicines to the food agency.

At the moment the evaluations are the remit of the pesticide safety directorate and the veterinary medicines directorate, both of which also have responsibility for licensing products.

Mr Gardiner said the union could see no reason to split the PSD and VMD functions. The system worked well and all existing responsibilities should be left with the two agencies, he said. Equally, the Meat Hygiene Service should also be allowed to continue as a separate organisation. All three could report to the food agency, but their functions should not be split up.

The Meat and Livestock Commission fully supported an independent food agency. It believed it was right that consumer representatives should form most of the commission. But it has recommended that a meat industry representative should also be appointed.

Within the DTI?

Ewen Cameron, Country Landowners Association president, told farm minister, Jack Cunningham, that the food standards agency should be located within the Department of Trade and Industry.

The CLA leader, who met the minister on Tuesday, expressed doubts over the proposal for joint ministerial responsibility in the James report, adding that one minister should be clearly accountable.

Government has already set up a ministerial group, chaired by David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to progress the legislation needed to establish the agency. It met for the first time last week.