02 September 1997
MAFFs role "fatally flawed"

By Boyd Champness

THE role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), to protect consumers as well as the commercial interests of the food industry, has been “fatally flawed”, according to a leading scientist.

Dr Erik Millstone, from the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, was speaking at todays food safety conference, set up to debate the remit of the proposed Food Standards Agency, at Church House, Westminster.

MAFF should never have been put in the position of sponsoring the development of the food industry, as well as regulating it, he said.

Dr Millstone said MAFF had almost single-handedly destroyed the egg and beef industries, while at the same time failing to protect the public from Salmonella and BSE.

He did not lay the blame at the feet of individuals within the ministry, but with the “flawed regime” under which MAFF was established.

Former agriculture minister Douglas Hogg “let the cat out of the bag” when he announced that the Tory Government would establish a new food safety council if re-elected, said Dr Millstone.

In doing so Mr Hogg said the proposed council and its independent chairman would be allowed to criticise Government policy, and “this remark implicitly acknowledged that, until now, the members of MAFFs numerous committees have not been permitted to criticise departmental policy,” said Dr Millstone.

“This highlights a fundamental weakness in current arrangements. The committees which have provided advice and recommendations to MAFF ought to have been independent,” he said.

Dr Millstone said MAFF failed to protect the need of consumers in a number of areas including:

  • Food additives;
  • Pesticides;
  • Biotechnology;
  • Bacterial food poisoning;
  • Nutrition; and
  • BSE.

    In all these areas,” said Dr Millstone, “MAFF has failed to provide regulatory standards which could have protected public health, as well as failing to ensure that those standards were in place and enforced.”

    MAFF also failed to adequately invest in scientific and technical R&D which could have raise food standards; and it failed to communicate effectively to all relevant groups, he said.

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