Let's work together and build trust, FSA tells industry

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Industry Food standards agency

The chair of the UK's Food Standards Agency has underscored the
importance of building consumer trust in food, and laid down a
number of challenges faced by the industry, the agency, and the two
sides in partnership.

Dame Deirdre Hutton delivered her comments as part the annual lecture at Chorley Wood and Campden Food Research Association, attended by some 500 members of the food and drink industry. She began her address by praising the food industry for its assistance in developing the agency's programmes on food safety and nutrition. "None of our achievements have brought about by us alone, but have come about through partnership, co-operation and, I hope, mutual respect,"​ she said. "Of course there have been discussions - possibly heated on occasion - but we at the Agency are very conscious that we are not the people who deliver food. You do that, day in and day out - and generally to an astonishingly high standard." ​ However she highlighted the importance of building trust in the food industry, saying that trust is what brings consumers through the doors of shops and supermarkets, and has given the food industry stability in which to innovate and prosper. "Trust is one of the most precious asset of the FSA - our brand, if you like,"​ she said, drawing on the US$67bn example of Coca Cola as the world's more valuable brand. In the FSA's latest survey, 66 per cent of respondents said they believe the agency tells the truth. "That trust is not a given. It has to be earned. It is very hard won, but also easily lost. The importance is, with trust in the Agency, we can regulate in a way that balances the right amount of public protection with the conditions that allow business to innovate, compete and flourish. It is that innovation, competition and flourishing that leads to real benefits for consumers. Without trust, the market is more vulnerable to instability" ​But Dame Hutton said that the FSA and industry need to work together to get their relationship on the right footing. She called the consumer "a common boss… to whom we each respond in our respective ways".​ This means that the agency and industry have to work out a balance as to the appropriate relationship. ​She asked industry to inform the agency of its thoughts on regulations, especially those considered over-complex and over-burdensome. "We have undertaken to reduce the administrative burden of food regulations within our remit by 25 per cent by 2010. If we are to do that, we need your help - so please let us have your ideas." ​ She also asked industry to be more willing to share information about safety and dietary health with the agency. "Public health is not a competitive issue and if there are ways of making it easier to have those discussions with us, please let us know." ​ In industry's dealings with consumers, she urged it to share more information with customers, letting them see and hear more about where their food comes from. "I believe that more openness and better informed consumers will move the market in a safer, healthier, more sustainable - and more profitable direction."​ As for the FSA, Dame Hutton set out several challenges it faces: Firstly, she said that the increasingly complex global food chain presents new challenges for food safety - as does emerging science like nanotechnology, dealing with issued like genetic modification, and day-to-day dealings with bacteria and viruses. The second related to diet and heath, where the FSA's strategy is around encouraging the industry to produce the right products, informing the public of health messages and giving people information to aid their choice. "Achieving the right balance as to where responsibilities lie and the appropriate methods for achieving the goals will be a continuing challenge,"​ she said. Thirdly, the agency faces internal challenges, such as being as efficient and effective as possible in its operation, and reducing the administrative burden of regulation without compromising public health. In conclusion, she told attendees: "I am happy to commit the agency to continuing to work with you wherever and wherever we can, and to finding solutions which are coherent and sensible for the market, not just for the regulator. "If we can do that, then it has to be good for public health and good for business."

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