Food watchdog must be paid for by taxpayer

14 May 1998

Food watchdog ‘must be paid for by taxpayer’

By Boyd Champness

FOOD safety is so important that its “fundamentally wrong” of Government to expect industry to fund the Food Standards Agency, a conference heard today (Thursday).

Expressing his personal view, Roger Manley, deputy chairman of the Food Advisory Committee, said the notion that Government must abide by its pre-election promise and not increase taxes to fund the FSA was absurd.

“I believe this is fundamentally wrong. Food safety is so important that it must be paid for by increased taxation,” Mr Manley said.

Speaking about the FSAs remit at an Agra Europe conference in London, Mr Manley also criticised the Governments desire to label genetically modified (GM) foods. He said GM crops were so widespread that, within 10 years, virtually all products would be labelled as “possibly” containing GM material.

“And how will this information benefit the consumer? It will be of no benefit at all,” he added.

Mr Manley was also disappointed that industry had very little to say on the FSAs decision-making powers during the consultation period, which officially finished in March. For example, if the FSA comes under pressure to ban something, there needs to be a process to make sure that the risk to consumers is proportionate to the costs and benefits of outlawing the problem.

Mr Manley asked the question, “where do you draw the line on guidelines?” Citing personal experience, he said when was in the USA he bought a piece of fruit cake which had an enormous amount of information on its label. He said the information provided was disproportionate to the risk that piece of cake represented.

As far as the FSAs agricultural responsibilities are concerned, Mr Manley said the agency would not be responsible for farming, but have powers to intervene. It should also have the ability to start farm surveillance schemes.

It should also take the lead on aspects of animal feedstuffs, particularly in relation to human health, and provide input on authorisation of pesticides and licensing of veterinary medicines.

The FSA should take responsibility for the running of the Meat Hygiene Service, as well as the licensing of slaughterhouses and cutting plants and hygiene inspections for dairy farms across England and Wales.

It should also work closely with SEAC, the Governments BSE advisory body, and local authorities and health organisations when outbreaks of food-borne illnesses occur.

But perhaps Mr Manleys biggest complaint was the call from some sectors of the community to leave nutrition and diet out of the agencys remit. He said it would be wrong to have a far-reaching and powerful body which is seen to be quiet on health and nutrition.

“Nutrition and diet in this country is sadly lacking, and the agencys input in this area is of great importance,” he said.

Mr Manley believes that the agency will be up and running by the end of 1999, as Government has indicated. However, he believes a shadow governing body should be set up while the FSA bill progresses through Parliament.

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