After much rumour, it was announced today (20 July) that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is to retain its core remit of of food safety policy and enforcement. However responsibility for nutrition policy is passing to the Department of Health (DoH) and matters relating to country of origin labelling and various other non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies in England going to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The following is taken from the official Defra press statement.
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.
Reorganising in this way will contribute to the Government’s objectives to improve efficiency, and is paramount to the key priority of improving the health of the nation by creating a public health service. To achieve this coherence, some policy-based functions can be brought ‘in house’ to give a more coordinated approach on health and food issues.
Ministers and officials at the DoH and Defra are working closely with the FSA to implement the following changes:
Food Standards Agency
Retains a clearly defined departmental function focused on its core remit of food safety. This means that, on crucial issues of food safety, the independent advice from FSA experts would be final.
Retains current responsibility for nutrition and labelling policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Approximately 2,000 staff will remain at the FSA.
Department of Health
Nutrition policy will be transferred to the DoH. This includes front of pack nutrition labelling, such as guideline daily amounts.
The transfer of nutrition policy into the DoH directly contributes to the Government’s plans for public health. In the long-term, bringing policies ‘in house’ will enable better services to be created and clearer information to be given to the public.
The DoH will, as a result, be able to press industry to contribute more on improving the health of the nation. This includes reformulation, and provision of nutrition information in supermarkets and restaurants.
Approximately 70 policy posts will move to the Department from the FSA.
Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Country of origin labelling will transfer to Defra. This will support delivery of the Government’s commitment to deliver honesty in food labelling and ensure that consumers can be confident about where their food comes from.
It will also support delivery of one of Defra’s top priorities: Ministers’ firm commitment to support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production, and promote increased domestic food production.
Other policy areas that will transfer to Defra include composition policy which is about agreeing the components and standards for characterising products such as honey, jam, chocolate, ice-cream or meat content of sausages).
Approximately 25 policy posts will move to Defra from the FSA.
Commenting on this news, Dr Stephen Battersby, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said: “This seems to be the approach of the current administration. Let it appear as if there is the possibility of an extreme/awful decision and then when the actual announcement comes it does not appear to be so bad!
“I do not follow the logic of how DoH will be responsible for nutrition ion England but the FSA retains responsibility for nutrition and labelling policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So how will it improve efficiency? I have concerns about the DoH having responsibility for nutrition and labelling, but we will have to see how it goes. If it is a step towards making the DoH a public health department, will they take total responsibility for pest control from Defra whose main concern on the food side is production? I do not see how or why Defra should have any responsibility other than that.”