By John Farrant

WIDE-RANGING powers are promised for the Food Standards Agency for which the Bill should be introduced during the present session of Parliament, if the Government keeps its word this time.

Primary producers and processors will make little contribution to funding, which will come mainly from public funds, except for a levy of £90 a year on all retail and catering premises.

Next priority as far as the poultry meat and egg sectors are concerned is that imports get the same surveillance as home-produced. Unless this is done it will be failing in its remit to protect public health and raise safety standards throughout the food chain.

Advice that another priority area should be observance of basic and well-established hygiene rules by caterers and domestic consumers has come from such significant quarters as the House of Commons Agriculture Committee, in its report last year on Food Safety. It commented that this would slash the incidence of food poisoning in this country.

On limited funding, this is the part of the food chain that is most cost-effective in reducing food-borne illness, but it is better if this suggestion does not originate from the poultry sector. Nor does it mean that we can avoid responsibility or raising standards.

At primary production level, livestock disinfection and biosecurity specialists Antec International have observed that much lower levels of pathogens passing out into the food chain is achievable.

Antec vet Mark Blackwell sums up the route as “biosecurity combined with good management, vaccination and strategic medication to bring a substantial reduction in levels of clinical disease on-farm.”

At last months NFU Annual Conference in London, Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker said that the Agency would have powers to act anywhere in the food chain to protect public health, including on farms.

“We must not allow those who do not follow the rules and disregard best practice, to drag down the reputation of the rest.”

Consultation responses to the draft Bill should be made by 24 March.