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UK Food Standards Agency carved up but keeps safety role

By Rory Harrington, 20-Jul-2010

Related topics: Quality, Safety, Hygiene, Safety & Regulation

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) will retain its food safety role but has been stripped of its nutritional and labelling responsibilities in England, as the Government confirmed its expected shake up of the body today.

Under the new system, the FSA will focus solely on food safety policy and enforcement in England but will also keep its current responsibilities for nutrition and labelling policy in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Department of Health (DoH) will take over responsibility for nutrition policy in England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will take on country of origin labelling (COOL) and various other non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies in England, said a DoH statement.

Temporary measure?

The Government said the move was part of its efficiency drive, with Health Minister Andrew Lansley saying it would provide a “clearer and less bureaucratic system for public health”.

When asked about how fragmenting the nutritional and labelling functions between different departments for England and the rest of the UK would achieve this goal, a DoH spokeswoman indicated the split may only be a temporary measure.

“For the time being the transfer of the nutritional and labelling functions are being transferred in England,” she told FoodProductionDaily.com. “Ministers are currently working through this part of arrangements for the devolved regions and arrangements are ongoing.”

Lord Rooker, Chair of the FSA, welcome the announcement.

“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,” he said.

The Government said the FSA would have a “clearly defined departmental function” focussed on food safety and that independent advice from FSA experts on these issues “would be final.”

The FSA said it did not expect any job losses to it 2,000 workforce. It will remain a non-ministerial department reporting to Parliament through DoH Ministers.

The transition timetable has only partially been mapped out although the DoH confirmed the policy transfer to Defra would be effective immediately. Physical moves for staff between offices would take longer.

Minister Lansley said: “It’s absolutely crucial for the Food Standards Agency to continue providing independent expert advice to people about food safety. But bringing nutrition policy into the Department makes sense.”

Industry reaction

The decision was backed by the UK Food and Drink Federation.

“As the voice of the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, we believe it is important to maintain an independent food safety regulator and fully support today’s decision by the Government to retain the Food Standards Agency,” said FDF director Melanie Leech.

She said the FSA had helped to foster public confidence in food safety and the FDF looked forward to working with its new regulator.

"We also support the decision to move responsibility for nutrition, and other food policy issues, back into Government departments," added Leach. "This should lead to clearer and more consistent policy making, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort across Whitehall.”