SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS
1. We recommend that in future any ad hoc committee
is set up by the House before the draft legislation which it is
to examine becomes available (paragraph 9).
2. We asked officials from the Joint Food Safety
and Standards Group to attend each oral evidence session and to
reply to any questions that we might put to them during evidence.
Normal committee practice would have been to follow up queries
raised in oral evidence in writing to such officials, but time
constraints led us to adopt this alternative procedure. We consider
this procedural experiment to have been a success: the presence
of officials was very useful and we thank them for assisting us
in this manner despite the extra work it no doubt involved (paragraph 12).
Agency members: "The Commission"
3. We recommend that at second reading the Minister
should make explicit the criteria by which members of the Commission
are selected and interests are declared (paragraph 21).
4. With the openness and transparency of the Agency
being so fundamental to its aim of creating public confidence
in itself and thus in its work to ensure standards and safety
in the food chain, it is clearly essential that the Government
consider whether the transparency set down in the Bill is sufficient;
and that the Agency's members recognise the position of public
trust that they hold and act accordingly (paragraph 22).
Health promotion, nutrition and labelling
5. We agree that if the Agency is to protect the
public's health, it is vital that it has a remit in nutrition
and dietary advice. We believe that the Agency should be the body
responsible for setting the nutritional and dietary standards
to be applied by health departments and health promotion agencies
6. We are concerned that the responsibility for
an overall, consistent food-related health promotion message is
unclear. We also consider that the impact in this area of the
establishment of the Agency does not appear to have been as well
thought through as it should have been. We recommend that the
Government clarifies its intention as to which bodies will be
responsible and accountable for each aspect of health promotion.
We also recommend that more strategic thinking is done on the
impact that the Agency will have on the various bodies which have
responsibility for health promotion (paragraph 29).
7. Much work is being done on voluntary codes
of practice relating to the labelling of food. The National Food
Alliance, the Food and Drink Federation and the Local Authorities
Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards (LACOTS) are
for example taking forward a proposal for such a code with regard
to health claims on food. This is clearly something which the
current Government should be encouragingif not instigatingand
which must become another priority for the Agency (paragraph 31).
8. We would like the Government to explain what
role in food advertising the Agency will have. We recommend that
the role should be one of providing expert advice to the Advertising
Standards Authority and other relevant bodies (paragraph 32).
Enforcement and monitoring
9. The spokesmen for the Chartered Institute of
Environmental Health (CIEH) suggested that it might even be helpful
for local authority staff to be seconded for short periods on
to the staff of the Agency: this clearly seems a good idea. We
consider this secondment would benefit both local authority and
Agency personnel alike, and recommend the Government give some
thought as to how such secondment might operate (paragraph 36).
10. We recommend that the Agency should have
a role in setting standards for training for enforcement staff
11. We recommend that the final decision to
invoke the power to remove food safety enforcement from a local
authority that has failed to meet the required standards should
remain with the Secretary of State having received advice from
the Agency (paragraph 39).
12. It is clear that the indicators used to
gauge local authority audit and monitoring activity should not
be only mechanistic, procedural onesthe number of inspections,
for example: neither should they be entirely related to the outputs,
to reported cases of food poisoning, as another example. It is
evident that only multi-disciplinary indicators, based on best
practice and developed by the Agency in conjunction with local
authorities, will be suitable for use by the Agency in monitoring
local authority enforcement sufficiently accurately to justify
some of the steps that it might have to take if an authority is
rightly singled out as repeatedly failing to meet the reasonable
standards set (paragraph 41).
The Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Veterinary
13. We are not completely satisfied that the
draft Bill provides the Agency with sufficient scope to intervene
in the pesticides and veterinary medicines regulatory process.
The PSD and VMD should be required to submit a food safety impact
study to the Agency for approval as part of the regulatory process.
We remain concerned that the Agency has no direct role in monitoring
the impact of pesticides and veterinary medicines after their
introduction (paragraph 45).
The Meat Hygiene Service
14. We feel that on balance the best interests
of the public would be served by retaining the management of the
MHS outside the Agency (paragraph 50).
15. If the Government does not accept this
recommendation, then the onus is on the Government to establish
a structure which clearly separates these powers within the Agency
Openness and accountability
16. The Agency's power of providing advice
and information to the general public, as well as public authorities,
is set down in Clauses 10 and 11. In oral evidence to us, the
Minister for Food Safety agreed that this power might fruitfully
be extended to providing advice to the food industry. We recommend
that this is made explicit on the face of the Bill (paragraph
17. We recommend that the Government clearly
explain the reasoning behind the powers contained in Clauses 9
and 18 when the Bill proper is introduced to the House (paragraph
18. We recommend that the Agency be guided
by a clear presumption in favour of openness and that the case
for non-publication by the Agency on account of commercial confidentiality
is one that has to be made strenuously rather than simply accepted.
The draft Bill should be amended to reflect this (paragraph 54).
19. The Committee is not satisfied that the
powers in subsection 3 of Clause 11 are necessary and recommend
that they be removed (paragraph 55).
20. The Committee is concerned at the quality
of advice given by the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food
and Nutrition Policy (COMA) and the Committee on the Toxicity
of Chemicals in Food (COT) and recommends that the Agency monitor
the quality of such advice (paragraph 56).
Directions relating to breach of duty by the Agency:
21. There appears to be a significant difference
between the two scenarios the Minister set out to us in relation
to circumstances in which he might invoke his power to direct
the Agency under Clause 21. It seems to us reasonable that these
powers should be invoked in relation to the misuse of public funds.
But, given that the Agency has independence in its provision of
advice, and given that the Government can disagree with that advice
and act independently and contrary to it, it appears perverse
that the Government can invoke such draconian powers when the
Agency disagrees with its advice and acts accordingly. We ask
the Government to clarify further what such a disagreement leading
to these powers being invoked would entail and who should act
as arbiter in cases where there was obviously a fundamental difference
of opinion as to the authoritativeness of any given piece of research
responsible for such a disagreement (paragraph 62).
22. It is not sufficient that the Government
claim that such documents are innocuous and that there is no need
to provide them for public scrutiny while stressing the importance
of openness in building the public's confidence with regard to
the Agency, who will be a partner in all these concordats. The
House and the public at large must know what form they will take,
who is to have responsibility for drawing up these concordats,
who will have final responsibility as to their content in situations
of disagreement over that content, who will oversee their implementation
and monitor their effectiveness, and to what extent they will
be made public. Concordats will have to be in place from vesting
day and therefore will need to be drawn up prior to the setting
up of the Agency. Drafts of concordats and their successors must
be provided to the House upon introduction of the Bill so as to
inform sensible debate on this otherwise obscure matter. Final
versions and revisions should be made available for scrutiny by
a select committee of the House (paragraph 65).
23. We recommend that as a minimum the Agency's
reports should indicate annual progress in food safety and in
raising dietary and nutritional standards (paragraph 66).
24. Our preference would be for parliamentary
scrutiny of the Agency to be undertaken by a sub-committee of
an enlarged Health Committee, possibly one having a wider public
health remit (paragraph 66).
The culture of openness
25. Much comment has been made about the new
culture that the Agency is intended to bring to the food safety
and standards situation in this country. As we have seen above
this new culture will to a great extent depend upon the people
who direct the operation of the Agency, and upon those who work
for it. However just as great an influence upon the Agency's culture
will be its openness and the transparency of the procedures of
its executive. This openness is not just a component of its independence
from those Government departments who used to carry out much of
its work, but also serves to stress and make explicit that independence
to the public at large. It will be essential that the Agency in
all its activities espouses the principle of openness in its activities
Funding and the levy
26. We recommend that the Bill should empower
the Secretary of State to extend the levy scheme by regulations
to encompass a licensing scheme if so advised by the Agency (paragraph
27. We do not agree that the levy will enable
industry to bring pressure to bear on the Agency, because payment
of the levy will not be voluntary, but this point must clearly
be put across to the public by the Government, and by the Agency
when set up, lest the impression prevail that the independence
of the Agency is compromised by the source of its funding (paragraph
28. The Government must make clearly known
the mechanisms by which any future changes to the levy will be
decided upon and made (paragraph 75).
29. Local authorities who favour the levy
in the context of licensing of premises view the imposition of
a levy outside such a context as a possible deterrent on premises
seeking to be registered, thus allowing those premises to escape
local enforcement vis à vis food health and food
standards regulations altogether. However, these cited reservations
aside, the chosen point of the levyat least in the short
termappears to us to be based on practical reasoning (paragraph
30. We believe that the flat rate principle
is contrary to natural justice and we recommend that the Government
implement a graduated system following its consultation exercise
31. Given the Government's express intention
to raise some funding for the Agency from parts of the industry,
we consider a levy to be one means of doing so. However we think
that in the short-term only the set-up costs of the Agency should
be funded by the levy. Recurring new costs should initially be
funded from general taxation until the Agency has had proper opportunity
to assess its running costs and consider any possible extension
of the levy (paragraph 80).
32. We are of the opinion that if the amount
of money to be raised by the levy is indeed to increase over time,
then the Government mustin the interests of equityre-examine
the way in which it is to be raised. At the current proposed level,
the levy would not be much of a burden to all except the most
marginal retailers: if it were to increase then many retailers
would feel very considerable financial pressure. A flat rate of
payment would not be suitable in such a situation (paragraph 82).
The European and International Dimension
33. It is obvious that government in considering
the form of the Agency, has had some regard to other models for
food safety or standards agencies, but it is less clear that local
authorities, for example, share this knowledge of potentially
instructive international comparisons. It would be enormously
beneficial if the Agency could take a lead in establishing links
not just between it and fellow agencies but between representatives
of local government enforcement bodies in the UK and similar enforcement
bodies abroad. Such contacts could be seen as clearly advantageous
in the context of the globalisation of food safety and standards
issues. It might not be appropriate for such a matter to feature
upon the face of a Bill, but it should certainly be a matter that
is made a priority for the Agency upon its establishment, and
that should feature in its annual report and statement of general
objectives and practices (paragraph 87).
34. It is clearly beneficial that the Agency
should have its officials representing the Government in European
or appropriate international discussions: indeed MAFF's competency
with regard to participation in such discussions will disappear
on vesting day. However, the Agency's independence, as provided
for in this draft Bill, will allow it to issue advice to the public
that is perhaps not accepted by the Government in the formulation
of certain of its policies. Those policies, contrary to Agency
advice, will sometimes form the subject of discussions in Europe
or at the WTO, and at which Agency officials will have to push
the Government line rather than the Agency's line (paragraph 88).
35. It is important that the Government clarify
how such Agency activity will operate when there is a clear and
public difference of opinion between the Agency and the Government
on a matter which the Agency is having to pursue on behalf of
the Government in European or international fora (paragraph 88).
36. A number of concerns have been raised
over a few areas connected with research matters. Most concern
centres on the size of the Agency's own research budget, and its
capacity either to carry out its own research or to sponsor research
carries out by other bodies or individuals (paragraph 91).
37. Professional scientists and academics
consider a research budget of £23 million to be insufficient
for a national agency that is intended to have national and international
scientific authority sufficient for it to hold people's confidence
and to influence debate (paragraph 92).
Co-ordination of research
38. The Government proposed in the White Paper
to look into this matter and to come up with concrete proposals.
Given the extent of the concern over the size of the Agency's
own budget, and its need to take advantage of properly co-ordinated
research, it is important that the Government expand upon these
proposals as soon it can. There might also be a case for putting
into the Bill, perhaps as a third element in subsection (2), a
duty on the Agency to assist co-ordination in these areas of research