Rumours that the Food Standards Agency is to be broken-up are circulating widely. Its food safety and nutritional roles will be handed back to two government departments.
The proposed abolition of the Food Standards Agency (FDA) would see its safety functions assigned to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), while the Department of Health (DH) would take on issues relating to public health, nutrition and diet.
If correct, this proposal is one of the many cost-cutting measures planned by the new coalition Government to reduce waste and bureaucracy.
In response to continuing reports in the media about the FSA closure, a Department of Health spokesperson said today (July 14) : “The Government recognises the important role of the Food Standards Agency and there will continue to be a robust regulatory function delivered through the FSA. But as part of our wider drive to increase the accountability of public bodies and reduce their number and cost we will also consider where some of the other functions of the FSA should best sit to ensure they are delivered most effectively.”
Updated statement dated 15 July – see below
Commenting on this news, Dr Stephen Battersby, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said: “The CIEH supported the creation of the FSA and although there have been some differences, the CIEH believes that an independent food standards agency is a good thing and that it would be a retrograde step to have the functions of the FSA dealt with by two government departments, one of which sponsors the food and farming industries. There is a risk that they will put the interests of business before public health.
“Consumer confidence is helped by having an independent FSA, although some still think that the FSA has not been tough enough on business. We have seen how neither Defra nor DH have been particularly interested in public health pests, and so again this is not a step forward. It will be left to hard pressed local authorities (facing severe cuts themselves), with no support or back-up as provided by the FSA, to muddle through and take the flack when things go wrong,” concluded Dr Battersby.
The Food and Drink Federation stated: “Recent reports about the future remit of the Food Standards Agency have suggested that food manufacturers are lobbying to close down the FSA. As the voice of the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, FDF has consistently supported the need for an independent, well funded food safety regulator. The FSA has been highly effective in regulating food safety in the 10 years since its creation, ensuring that consumer confidence in the food we eat has grown significantly.”
The Food Standards Agency has over 2,000 employees and an annual budget of £135m. It was set up ten years ago to protect consumer interests with food regulation.
Updated statement dated 15 July
In response to speculation about the future of the Food Standards Agency, a Department of Health spokesperson said:
“The Secretary of State for Health indicated his intention, before the election, to move the Food Standards Agency”s nutrition policy function for England to the Department of Health.
‘This intention is repeated in the plan published alongside the White Paper it is a draft set of ambitions and not yet a formal commitment. Transfers of functions between Departments require approval from the Prime Minister. We will announce details as soon as possible.
‘The Government recognises the important role of the Food Standards Agency and there will continue to be a robust regulatory function delivered through the FSA. But as part of our wider drive to increase the accountability of public bodies and reduce their number and cost we will also consider where some of the other functions of the FSA should best sit to ensure they are delivered most effectively.”