Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk as speculation over the future of the FSA reached fever pitch this week, IFST chief executive Jon Poole (pictured) said: “The suggestion that the food industry had ‘won a battle’ by pressuring the government to abolish or break up the FSA is really quite annoying.
“In reality, the demise of the FSA would be regarded by many people in the food industry as a huge loss. And in my view, the position of relative independence it has now is worth preserving. Very few in the sector will see the break up of the FSA as a positive step.”
He added: “It might have appeared a bit nanny state in terms of some of the work it was doing on nutrition, but in fact it has been acting as the conscience of the public and of the food industry itself.”
Industry is not at war with the FSA
The IFST (an independent professional body that accredits scientists and technologists in the food sector) had always enjoyed a “constructive and positive relationship” with the FSA, he added. “The adversarial style of relationship suggested in these press reports is neither accurate nor particularly helpful.”
While it had attracted the most column inches for its work on ‘traffic light’ labelling and salt reduction, the FSA had also “provided coherent strategy and direction around key food issues such as reductions in the levels of saturated fat and salt, reductions in campylobacter in chicken as well as regulating food business operators”, he added.
“These are all still very live issues and the functions of the FSA, in whatever form, will continue to be needed in the future."
Abolishing FSA is bad news for business
Eversheds partner David Young agreed that the demise of the FSA would not be good news for the food industry.
“The FSA has not been a foe of business by any means, affording manufacturers and other industry groups opportunities for access to its staff and expertise, input into consultations, involvement in its committees and the weight of its status when, from time to time, it has endorsed suggestions emanating from the industry.”
Former European Food safety Authority chairman Professor Patrick Wall also waded into the debate this week, telling our sister title FoodProductionDaily.com that breaking up the FSA would be a "huge mistake", while former FSA chairman Lord Krebs also warned that public trust in food safety would be put at risk were the FSA dismantled during a debate on nanotechnology last night.
He said: "I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to confirm that newspaper reports of the FSA’s imminent demise are exaggerated."
No decision taken
Earl Howe, parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department of Health, was then forced to reiterate that no decision on the FSA had yet been taken, adding: "The noble Lord is assuming that the FSA is going to disappear. I have seen those reports but do not recognise the stories at all.
"No decisions have been taken about the future of various functions within the Food Standards Agency, but we are clear that there has to be a role for a body setting standards objectively in the way that he has described."