Scotland has created a stand-alone food safety agency as a backlash against the UK Government decision in 2010 to split the functions of the body and over concerns about toxic relations between its meat industry and London-based inspectors
The move to establish a break-away national food safety body comes in the wake of Westminster’s decision two years ago to shift responsibility for nutrition and food labelling in England from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to Defra (Department of Health and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
Scottish ministers agreed to split from London after the influential Scudamore Review recomended a new Scotland-led body in its report earlier this year.
The review also expressed anxiety about the ”poor relationship” between Scotland’s meat industry players and inspectors from the FSA in London. The rancorous situation was seen as negative enough to warrant bringing the meat inspection function north of the border to Edinburgh.
One-stop food safety agency
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson highlighted the controversial decision by the UK coalition government to divide the safety and nutrition and labelling functions as a major driver in the Scottish decision.
“The changes in England removed significant capacity in the FSA’s nutrition and labelling functions for Scotland and needed to be addressed,” he said
In accepting the recommendation of Jim Scudamore, he added: “A new body will allow a Scottish approach to be taken to tackle poor diet and food-borne diseases and should support our food and drink industry in growing its strong, international reputation for safe, quality food."
The Minister stressed the new agency would operate at arm’s length from the government in Edinburgh as he pinpointed its remit.
“The body will encompass nutrition and labelling policy, and meat inspection policy and operational delivery, in addition to food safety and standards. We will establish a new body which is independent, evidence-based, consumer-focussed and transparent,” he said.
The creation of the new Scottish FSA will require primary legislation and Matheson said it would consult on options before the end of 2012.
However, no legislation is required for the overhaul of the meat inspection regime and ministers declared themselves eager to push ahead as soon as possible.
“I welcome the decision to transfer operational control of meat inspection delivery to the FSA in Scotland as soon as possible, which we hope will deliver a more cost-effective service and further enhance our strong reputation for quality and hygiene,” said Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead.
He added: “I am keen to explore how quickly this could be achieved. Legislation would not be needed so I would expect to transfer meat inspection, after discussions with the industry and the Food Standards Agency, before the new body is established.”
Unsurprisingly, the initiative was welcomed by the Scottish meat industry.
“The new structure, as outlined by the Scottish Government, is very much a new dawn for our industry, offering everyone involved the chance to start again with fresh ambitions, fresh attitudes and a vision for continued development," said Alan McNaughton, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.
The UK FSA said it respected the Scottish decision and would work with the new agency.