22 November 1996

NFU steps up action for food standards agency

CRITICISM of MAFFs handling of the BSE-crisis has prompted the NFU to send a consultation document to members over proposals for a food standards agency.

Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, told a conference in London that MAFF had failed to operate and enforce BSE regulations rigorously in abattoirs, rendering facilities and feed mills.

"It is relatively simple to set rules on a precautionary basis. It is far more difficult to ensure that feed manufacturers, farmers, slaughterers and meat cutters, and local authority and central government regulators all operate properly."

Mr Gardiner questioned why, this year, the government was still improving the regulations governing feed mills and slaughterhouses eight years after banning the feeding of ruminant protein feed to cattle.

He said there could be room for an audit body, which could ensure that the regulators, whether local authorities or central government, were properly protecting public interest. It would have control over future research policy.

Another option could be the setting up of a chief food safety officer within MAFF, who would have a team of civil servants dedicated to maintaining professional standards.

Members have until Christmas to respond, and the issue will be debated at Januarys NFU council meeting and at the London agm in February.

Other speakers at the Charter 88 conference, BSE: A Sickness in Government said the food standards agency should be a separated from MAFF, claiming the ministry had failed to tread an independent path between the agribusiness sector and consumers.

Labour MP Hugh Bayley (York) complained that government had not adopted measures recommended by the Tyrrell advisory committee, and its own House of Commons agriculture and health committees. And he called for all minutes of the governments BSE advisory committee (SEAC) to be published.

Richard Livsey, former Brecon and Radnorshire Lib Dem MP and current prospective parliamentary candidate, called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the BSE-crisis, the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act, more scientific and technical input among House of Lords peers and a food safety agency for both animals and humans.

Conservative backbencher Sir James Spicer (Dorset West) said he was unhappy that there had been no specific labelling of animal feed, and he acknowledged that MAFF should have provided 100% compensation to farmers for BSE cases from the start.

Dr Will Patterson, North Yorkshire Health Authority consultant, criticised the Department of Health and public health organizations for failing to carry out BSE/CJD related research. &#42

Ian Gardiner:

NFU to debate changes to ensure MAFF protects the public interest and maintains professional standards.