29 January 1999

No public funding for food agency

FARMING leaders have welcomed the governments decision to establish an independent food standards agency but have insisted that it should be funded from the public purse and not, as is proposed, by introducing a £90 levy on every food retailer.

Ben Gill, NFU president, said: "It is imperative that the agency is completely funded by the government in order for it to be seen by consumers as an independent body."

In public interest

Scottish NFU leader George Lyon added that the advice the agency would provide was in the public interest. So it should be paid for out of the public purse. "Otherwise we stand the risk of compromising the appearance of independence."

Both unions, however, believed the agency would provide further transparency in the food chain and would benefit both producers and consumers by providing independent, science-based advice.

Launching a two-month public consultation on the proposed legislation, farm minister Nick Brown and health minister Frank Dobson said the agency would have one overriding remit – to protect public health and raise safety standards across the industry.

It will have powers of entry onto UK farms to investigate any matter concerning food safety. Equally, it would have the authority to intervene if there were food safety worries related to imports.

Based in London, the agency will report to parliament through the Department of Health.

Responsibility for licensing veterinary medicines and pesticides will not transfer, although the agency will be consulted on any issues relevant to food safety. It will also have the power to investigate any food safety issues related to genetically modified foods.