23 January 1998

Food Agency welcomed but who will pay costs?

By Catherine Hughes

PROPOSALS to establish an independent Food Standards Agency, released by government last week, have been welcomed in principle by industry leaders. But there is strong opposition to any attempt to make the food industry fund the agency.

Meat and Livestock Commission director general, Colin Maclean, described the creation of the agency as a major step towards cementing consumer confidence in British meat.

The proposals took a sensible approach to dividing up responsibility for animal health and human health. And the aim of obtaining consistency in food law enforcement across the country was greatly welcomed.

But he was concerned about the plan to force the bulk of the £100m plus annual running costs for the agency onto the food industry.

"More importantly, it would be a tragedy if any further financial burdens were placed on the meat industry, which is facing the most severe challenges ever faced by an industry sector," he added.

The Transport and General Workers Union has given the paper a cautious welcome, but warned that the agency must be funded by the state if the public was to be confident of its independence.

The Country Landowners Association said the creation of a food agency was the last chance to prove that food was safe. It, too, insisted that further financial burdens must not be put on a hard pressed rural economy and farming industry.

Michael Jack, shadow farm minister, said: "The fact that Jack Cunningham wants industry, and eventually the consumer, to pay the costs of the FSA heralds the era of pay-as-you-eat for food safety."

Lib-Dem chief whip, Paul Tyler, said that over the past 15 years there had been no lack of safe, good quality food. But there had been a disastrous lack of safe, good quality advice.