27 September 1996

Independent agency for food policy considered by union

THE NFU may support moves to establish an independent agency taking responsibility for food policy away from MAFF.

Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president, told a fringe meeting at the Lib-Dem party conference in Brighton this week that although beef consumption in the UK had recovered more than in other EU countries, the BSE scare had damaged consumer trust in both government and science.

Farmers, he said, had to be accountable and provide the traceability, animal welfare systems and environmental management that the non-farming public now demanded.

But future food policy also had to be addressed. Mr Pexton said the NFU was considering how an independent food agency, which would remove the responsibility for food issues from MAFF, could operate.

"The idea has been around for some time but BSE has given the debate added impetus. I know that both Labour and the Liberal-Democrats are in favour of an agency and we are looking at it because we want consumers to have absolute confidence in British food," he said.

The BSE crisis was debated by the Lib-Dems on Wednesday. The partys agriculture spokesman, Paul Tyler, told the NFU fringe meeting that the past six months had been the most appalling crisis for beef producers.

And he hit out at the governments handling of the issue. BSE, when related to the Tories, meant "blame someone else" Mr Tyler said. The government had failed to manage the crisis, especially the over 30-month scheme, where its policy of non-intervention had caused complete chaos.

By refusing to put the scheme out to tender, the government had given a small number of big abattoirs a license to print money.

The BSE crisis had destroyed credibility not only in the government, but, more seriously, in science. That was why it was now vital to establish an independent food agency, he said.

Tony Pexton:BSEhas given the debate over a food agency added impetus.

Paul Tyler:The BSEcrisis has destroyed the credibility of government and science.