9 November 2001

FSA debunks safety myths

By Isabel Davies

THE head of the Food Standards Agency has told consumers they are mistaken to believe that extensively produced food is safer to eat than intensively produced food.

There was a misunderstanding that food safety was critical to the system in which it was produced, said agency chairman Sir John Krebs. "You are not going to get safer food by switching to a more extensive system."

The professors comments were made as he spoke in a debate on the future of food and farming held in London on Tue, Nov 6. The event, which was organised by the Food Standards Agency, was chaired by Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman.

Addressing an audience largely made up of ordinary members of the public, Sir John also defended the use of pesticides and chemicals in food production. People were more concerned about food safety than ever before which was a paradox because it was safer and more varied than ever before. "The safety of chemicals used is very rigorously assess with huge margins of error," he said.

NFU president Ben Gill said food safety was an issue where consumers had to start balancing risks. Recent figures showed more people died in England and Wales choking on inanimate objects than from food poisoning, he added.

Many food safety issues were to do with how people handled food once they had bought it, said Mr Gill. "The problems of food safety are much further down the line than the farm gate."

But rural recovery co-ordinator Lord Haskins warned that farmers must stop squabbling between themselves if they want the government to help the industry. The countryside was making a lot of noise and the government had to listen to that, he said. "But until we get some degree of consensus in the countryside then the government isnt going to go anywhere."

Lord Haskins said British farming had failed for the past 100 years to get to grips with the concept of co-operation. Farmers should also be more involved in primary processing, he said. "Farmers, like all people in the countryside, spend all their time squabbling together and being suspicious of all."

The Labour peer has previously urged farmers to stop fighting with other interest groups such as environmentalists. He has warned that farmers are in danger of taking adversarial viewpoints which may alienate other sections of society.