7 April 2000

FSAwont have right to close down farms

By Johann Tasker

FEARS that farms with poor food safety records could be closed down by the Food Standards Agency have been dismissed by an agency spokesman.

The agency, which began work on Monday (Apr 3), will not have enforcement powers to close farms, the spokesman said. The safety of processed farm produce remains the responsibility of environmental health officers. Issues such as animal welfare and medicines will remain under the remit of MAFF.

"We specifically ourselves do not have any inspectors and will not be enforcing it on our own," the spokesman told farmers weekly. But he added: "Nevertheless, if we do detect a problem we will be in touch with local authorities to get something done."

Among other issues, the agency pledged to tackle misleading labelling and food imports after its launch in London. A new think-tank to help the agency 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. 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 packaging.

Confusing labels such as "country-style", "85% fat-free", and indiscriminate warnings such as "may contain nuts" will be targeted, said Prof Krebs. He added: "We will pursue this by working with industry in the UK and 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.

An Act of Parliament will ensure the independence of the agency by entitling it to publish its advice to the government.

Health ministers have agreed to the agencys recommendation that a statutory scheme for licensing butchers shops should now be introduced. The necessary regulations for England are before parliament and will come into operation in the autumn. The agency will also set performance targets for the Meat Hygiene Service to be published on its 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. &#42