FSA escapes axe, but is slimmed down

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) will not now be axed but it instead lose some of its responsibilities under a government shake-up, it has emerged.

It had been widely reported last week that health secretary Andrew Lansley planned to abolish the agency in the latest round of government spending cuts.

But the FSA released a statement today (Tues July 20), saying the government intended to retain the watchdog and renew its focus on food safety.

This means that, on crucial issues of food safety, the independent advice from FSA experts “would be final”, said a spokesman for the FSA.

Lord Rooker, chairman of the FSA, said: “Food safety and hygiene have always been at the heart of what the agency does. They are our top priorities in protecting the interests of consumers.”

However, the FSA in England will lose its responsibilities for nutrition and labelling in the reforms.

Health Secretary Mr Lansley said the agency would instead have a “renewed focus” on food safety, with nutrition policy and front-of-pack labelling going to the Department of Health and country of origin labelling becoming DEFRA‘s responsibility.

DEFRA’s role will also include the promotion of domestic and sustainable food production and setting the components and standards that characterise products such as honey, jam and chocolate.

The reorganisation will improve efficiency and give “a more co-ordinated approach on health and food issues” by bringing policy responsibilities “in house”, the government said.

The FSA was established as a non-ministerial government department in 2000. Its primary purpose was to secure food safety and provide vital advice to government and to the public – a role that the government believes must remain independent.

Responsible for improving food safety through the food chain, the FSA has 2000 staff and an annual budget of £135m.

This includes improving farm hygiene and ensuring human health is not put at risk through what is fed to animals.

From 1 January 2006, food hygiene legislation has applied to farmers, growers and other producers as part of a “farm to fork” approach to food safety.