3 April 2000
Food agency to tackle labels, imports

by FWi staff

THE Food Standards Agency has pledged to tackle the subjects of misleading labelling and food imports following its launch in London.

All aspects of food safety and standards – from farm to fork – are now the responsibility of the agency, which started work on Monday (3 April).

A new think-tank to help the agency to take a farm to fork approach to its work will bring in external experts to advise on specific issues.

The experts will undertake investigations, including primary production on the farm, and identify any practices which might threaten food safety.

Professor Sir John Krebs, who is chairing the agency said one of the first steps would be to tackle the issue of food labelling.

Food labelling is sometimes confusing or even meaningless, he said.

The agency will continue the work started by Baroness Hayman, whose better labelling initiative aimed to stamp out misleading food packaging.

Confusing labels such as country-style, 85% fat-free, and indiscriminate warnings such as may contain nuts will be targeted, said Prof Krebs.

We will pursue this by working with industry in the UK and by working with colleagues in Brussels to change the European legislation where necessary.

Geoffrey Podger, the agencys chief executive, said the standard of foreign food imported into the UK would also fall under the remit of agency officials.

We will take imports equally seriously, he said.

The agency aims to protect the interests of consumers. An Act of Parliament ensures its independence by entitling it to publish its advice to the government.

A framework document has been published outlining how the it will set out and audit the standards for the enforcement of food law by local authorities.

The framework agreement will be open for consultation over the next few months with a view to guidance going to local authorities in September.

Health ministers have also agreed to the agencys recommendation that a statutory scheme for licensing butchers shops should now be introduced.

The necessary Regulations for England will be laid before the Westminster Parliament later today. It will come into operation in the autumn.

Equivalent regulations were laid in Scotland last week and will be laid shortly in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The agency will also set performance targets for the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) to be published on the website later this month.

It will set up an efficiency review of the MHS, and establish a new supervisory board chaired by Suzi Leather, the agencys deputy chairwoman.