Submitted by Consumers in Europe Group
The Consumers in Europe Group (CEG) is an
independent UK umbrella body for 34 UK organisations with an interest
in the effects of the European Union policies and proposals on
1. CEG warmly welcomes the publication of the
draft Food Standards Bill. We are pleased that it follows most
of the key points found in the preceding White Paper "The
Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change".
2. CEG fully supports the Agency's main objective
to "protect public health from risks which may arise in connection
with the consumption of food." We would like to see this
objective extended to cover the development of improved public
health in relation to diet. We trust that this is already covered
by the phrase in Clause 1, Section 1 "and otherwise to protect
the interests of consumers in relation to food". If so, then
this should be made clear.
3. Much will depend on the statement of general
objectives and general practices that the Agency will adopt within
three months of the date of its first meeting (Clause 18, Subsection
7). We welcome the legal requirement for the Agency to act openly
and in consultation. We hope that consumers will be consulted
on the drafting of these objectives because they will lay the
basis of consumer confidence in the Agency.
4. CEG would like to see the Agency adopt similar
principles to those of the European Commission's Consumer Policy
and Consumer Health Protection Directorate (DG XXIV), and which
have formed the basis of the recent improvements made to the EU
Scientific Committees. These are the principles of independence,
openness, transparency and reliance on the best available independent
scientific advice. We would add to this the accountability of
the Agency, to Parliament and to consumers.
5. CEG is pleased that the Agency will be able
to exercise its role in nutrition policy which the White Paper
envisaged. This is especially important since government figures
show that more ill-health is caused by poor diet than by food
poisoning. In addition, we consider that the Agency should give
nutritional advice on matters related to food production in agriculture
and fisheries. It should have an input into the development of
those agricultural and fisheries policies which are likely to
have an impact on nutrition and health.
6. Some subjects such as agricultural production,
veterinary medicine and animal health may not fall within the
Agency's direct remit but can have an important impact on public
health via the food chain. It must be possible for the Agency
to be closely involved in developing policy on these subjects
with the government department responsible. Clause 9, subsection
2 states that government departments "may" request advice
from the Agency on food-related matters. We are very concerned
that it will not be obligatory for the Agency to be consulted.
7. Although the Explanatory Notes say that the
Agency is likely to want to take a precautionary approach in its
decision-making process, this is not specified in the draft Bill
(Clause 19 subsection 2). The Consumer Policy and Health Protection
Directorate of the European Commission is keen to use a precautionary
approach in policy-making and has drafted guidelines on the use
of the precautionary principle. CEG would like to see the UK Food
Agency taking a similar approach and considers that it should
be referred to in the Bill.
8. We welcome the legal requirement for the
Agency to inform consumers about food-related matters (Clause
10), and agree with the examples given in the explanatory notes
of what information and advice it is planned to cover.
9. However, it is important that the Agency
not only informs consumers but also consults them and takes account
of their opinions. CEG is disappointed that neither the draft
Bill nor explanatory notes say much about how the Agency will
improve consumer involvement in food matters. Clause 18, subsection
2a states that the Agency's activities will be "the subject
of consultation with, or with representatives of, those affected
and, where appropriate, with members of the public", but
this does not seem to go any further than current practice in
consulting interested parties. The James report on the Food Standards
Agency was much stronger in this respect stating that "there
must be adequate and innovative mechanisms for consumer and public
interest representation within the new structures" and "there
is a need to explore further mechanisms of widening public involvement
in food policy which is currently very `top down'."
10. The draft Bill does not appear to say anything
about representation of the consumer and public interest on advisory
committees. This is a vital area for the openness and consumer
confidence in the advisory system and one explored in more detail
in the James' report. We would like to see this referred to in
the body of the Bill.
11. CEG considers that these are crucial issues
for establishing consumer confidence in the new Agency and restoring
their confidence in food safety. The consultation paper on the
proposals for a levy scheme acknowledges that the White Paper
was more positive about the links between consumers and the Agency.
It states that one of the Agency's new functions will include
"the development of mechanisms for effective two-way exchange
of information with the public at large, consumer organisations,
the food industry, enforcement, the media and others; and further
research into consumer opinion." We would like this incorporated
into the wording of the draft Bill.
12. CEG notes that consumer involvement in the
non-Food Agency part of MAFF will need to be reviewed. We urge
that consumer groups are fully consulted on any plans.
13. It is essential that the policy-making process
is open and transparent and that the Agency can publish the advice
it has given to Ministers. This will be particularly important
if, in EU negotiations, the Agency does not agree with the overall
UK policy on an issue.
14. Clause 11, subsection 2b should be amended
so that the Agency "should" (not "may") publish
information if it is in the public interest to do so.
15. It is likely that the public health impact
of BSE will rise in importance in future compared to the impact
on animal health, as more nvCJD cases are confirmed and the number
of BSE cases falls on UK farms. For this reason, we consider it
more appropriate for the Secretariat to SEAC to be provided by
the Agency or the Department of Health instead of by MAFF. The
proposed tripartite Secretariat is very likely to be unwieldy.
16. It will be very important of the Agency
to maintain close working contact with both VMD and PSD. The Agency
should have free access to information (including surveillance
results) about veterinary drugs and pesticides. We fully support
the change to the Medicines Act so that Section 118 will not cover
information given to the Agency by VMD.
17. Ideally, CEG would prefer the Agency to
have full responsibility for the surveillance programmes of both
veterinary drug and pesticide residues. We feel that consumer
confidence in the surveillance programmes would be increased if
surveillance was separated from the bodies that approve the products
in the first place. If it is not, then the effectiveness of the
working relationship between the Agency, VMD and PSD will be even
18. Much of the detail of the working relationship
between the Agency and other Government Departments and Agencies
will be contained in administrative concordats. CEG welcomes the
statement that these concordats will be published. Additionally,
we consider that interested parties should be consulted on these
documents before they are finalised. They should be reviewed regularly.
19. Presumably the concordats will also cover
the terms under which the Agency contributes to UK policy on EU
food-related issues. All parts of the Agency and of other government
departments must be made aware of the need to liaise fully on
food-related issues. It must be made clear who takes lead responsibility
on each subject area and who should be consulted. We hope that
the Agency's guiding principles will strongly influence the final
UK policy line.
20. We presume that Agency staff will attend
as experts in both technical and policy-making EU meetings on
food issues. We recognise that there may be occasions when the
Agency does not agree with the overall UK policy. In those circumstances
it is essential that the policy-making process is open and transparent;
the Agency must be able to publish the advice it has given to