22 May 1998

FSA must be paid for by tax rise

By Boyd Champness

FOOD safety is so important that it is "fundamentally wrong" of the government to expect the industry to fund the Food Standards Agency, according to Roger Manley, deputy chairman of the Food Advisory Committee.

He told delegates at a food safety conference in London, that the notion that government must abide by its pre-election promise and not increase taxes to fund the FSA was absurd.

"I believe this is fundamentally wrong. Food safety is so important that it must be paid for by increased taxation," Mr Manley said.

He also criticised the governments desire to label genetically modified foods. He said GM crops were so widespread that, within 10 years, almost all products would be labelled as "possibly" containing GM material.

"And how will this information benefit the consumer? It will be of no benefit at all," he added.

Mr Manley was also disappointed that industry had little to say on the FSAs decision-making powers during the consultation period, which officially finished in March. For example, if the FSA comes under pressure to ban something, there needs to be a process to make sure that the risk to consumers is proportionate to the costs and benefits of outlawing the problem.

As far as the FSAs agricultural responsibilities are concerned, Mr Manley said the agency would not be responsible for farming, but would have powers to intervene. It should also have the ability to start farm surveillance schemes. And it should also take the lead on aspects of animal feedstuffs, particularly in relation to human health, and provide input on authorisation of pesticides and licensing of veterinary medicines, he added.

The FSA should take responsibility for the running of the Meat Hygiene Service, as well as the licensing of slaughterhouses and cutting plants and hygiene inspections for dairy farms across England and Wales.

Mr Manley believes the agency will be up and running by the end of 1999, as the government has indicated. But he believes a shadow governing body should be set up while the FSA bill progresses through parliament.