17 January 1996

Regions equally split over IFA establishment

CONSULTATION with NFU regions on whether there should be an independent food agency has shown an almost equal split between those for and against.

Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, told union council that there was strong feeling from the regions that if established, an IFA should be concerned only with food safety and not food policy.

The consultation had also shown that NFU members were split evenly on whether an IFA should have executive status or should be an audit body. An agency with executive status would remove food safety issues from MAFF, while an audit body would be imposed over and above existing government functions.

The general feeling, said Mr Gardiner, was that members of an IFA should be appointed by government from all sectors of the food industry and consumers groups. And, if established, an agency should be as independent and free-ranging as possible. "There was total agreement that it should act as transparently as possible, issuing reports on its own initiative and commissioning studies if it felt they were required," he added.

Again there was divided opinion around the country on whether or not the NFU should seek to have a representative in an IFA.

Mr Gardiner said the Con-sumers Association was strongly in favour of a food agency with executive powers. But it also felt that the agencys remit should not be confined to food safety but extended to cover such issues as food standards and labelling.

Sir David Naish said that if done properly, an IFA could improve consumer confidence. But he believed that for an agency to be seen as truly independent then neither farmers nor consumer groups should be involved.

Council agreed that there were still many questions to be addressed, but the NFU must continue to be involved in the national debate.