Submitted by CWS (The Co-operative Wholesale
We consider that health issues relating to food,
and particularly advice on diet and nutrition should be placed
clearly within the remit of the Agency and should be spelled out
in the Bill as one of its core responsibilities.
CWS (The Co-operative Wholesale Society Ltd.)
employs more than 35,000 people, and its annual sales of £3
billion make it the world's largest consumer co-operative. As
a co-operative, we operate within a set of values based on openness,
honesty and social responsibility.
Although perhaps thought of primarily in terms
of food retailing, our activities are wide ranging, from funerals
(we are the biggest UK-owned undertaker), to finance (through
our two subsidiary businesses, The Co-operative bank and CIS,
the Co-operative Insurance Society). Our food involvement stretches
from plough to plate, as we are Britain's leading farmer, farming
over 80,000 acres, while as food retailers we operate in 600 stores
ranging in size from convenience stores and village shops to out
of town superstores.
As well as being food retailers in our own right,
we carry out a buying, marketing and distribution role for the
UK Co-operative Movement as a whole, comprising some 40 independent
societies operating over 2,000 food stores and collectively accounting
for around 6 per cent of the UK grocery trade.
3. CO -OPERATIVE
3.1 As long ago as 1988, the Co-op called for
the establishment of an independent Agency, responsible to a Minister
for Food Safety, and with a broad remit extending from ensuring
consistency of enforcement, through to addressing consumer education
on food issues.
3.2 In July 1996, we presented our views to
the then Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and
these views were later expanded into our submission to Professor
James in March 1997 (see page 44 of the James Report), emphasising
that the Agency should have a broad but well defined remit, including
3.3 Following publication of the report, and
in advance of the White Paper, Bill Shannon, CWS Head of Corporate
Affairs, spoke in favour of a wide remit for the Agency on a number
of occasions, including a Labour Party Conference Fringe meeting
in October 1997, and at an Agra Europe conference in London in
November 1997, where the keynote speakers were Jeff Rooker and
3.4 In August 1998, there were increasing references
in the media to an "unholy alliance" of food manufacturers
and retailers to narrow the Agency's remit to food safety alone,
and to exclude nutrition, labelling and other issues. We made
our views clear in a letter to Dr. David Clark on 13 August, pressing
for the Agency to embrace all aspects of food policy from microbiological
and chemical safety, to environmental impact, and in particular
4. CWS RECORD ON
The CWS feels justified in making these points
to the Select Committee because of its proven track record in
providing consumers with full and usable information with which
to make healthy choices.
4.1 CWS began the voluntary labelling of nutritional
information (initially Energy, protein, Carbohydrate and Fat)
in 1985. From the start, in the belief that there was no point
in supplying information without interpretation, we added qualitative
statements (High-Medium-Low) to the figures on the label.
4.2 In 1993 we sponsored a Nutrition Labelling
Forum of consumer and education bodies, as we felt that the Nutrition
labelling Directive had lost sight of consumers' needs.
4.3 The following year we called for more "consumer
friendly" labelling, with calories and fat per serving, and
a benchmark to allow consumers to monitor their fat intake, in
the same way as many people monitor calories.
4.1 We began introducing this information on
our own label products in 1995 and have subsequently announced
a wide range of initiatives, from labelling salt content (as well
as sodium), to the recent introduction of ingredients labelling
on our own brand wines (as well as alcohol units per glass, on
which we also led the way).
5. CWS RESPONSE TO
5.1 Health issues relating to food, and particularly
advice on diet and nutrition, should be placed clearly within
the remit of the Agency and should be one of its core responsibilities.
The FSA should have the duty of meeting the
need of consumers for clear, consistent and independent advice
on diet and health, and for a food policy aimed at promoting better
diet and health. This would fit well with the core function of
the Agency, which is to protect public health from risks arising
in connection with consumption of food, and in particular to provide
advice, information and assistance to the general public in this
It also makes good use of the FSA's status as
a body separate from both government and industry, and capable
of offering advice without fear or favour.
5.2 We propose amendments as follows:
"and otherwise to protect the interests
of consumers in relation to food and to provide information
and advice in relation to diet and health".
"or other interests of consumers in relations
to food, nutrition and diet".
"or other interests of consumer in relation
to food, nutrition and diet".
At present Clauses 9 and 10 give the Agency
only one explicit dutythat of developing policy and advice
on matters relating to food safety . All other issues fall into
the general duty "or other interests of consumers in relation
to food". The Notes to Clause 10 (page 18) do not mention
diet and health.
5.3 It is in our opinion not enough to depend
on the general duty nor on an assurance in the Introduction to
the consultation document (paragraph 23, page 7) that the Agency's
functions "will allow it to exercise the role which the White
Paper envisaged for it in nutrition policy". Furthermore,
this paragraph in the Introduction provides too weak a description
of what the Agency's role should be in this area.
5.4 The Agency should be given explicit duties
in this area because Government advice, whether provided by MAFF
or by the Department of Health, and however good, has not always
been seen as independent and dispassionate. Consumers have, particularly
since BSE, been increasingly inclined to regard Government advice
as partisan, and therefore have sometimes discounted it.
5.5 This situation has been made worse by the
view often put forward that the scientific evidence on nutrition
matters is conflicting. Consumers as a result are confused about
what advice they are being offered and how dependable it is and
therefore conclude that there is no point in changing their behaviour.
5.6 In this connection, it is worth recalling
that advice from COMA, the Government's most prestigious advisory
committee, has sometimes in the past been undermined. An independent
FSA would, we believe, be more able to speak out in support of
We therefore believe that the Committee on the
Medical Aspects of Food (COMA) should report to the Agency, which
should take over sole responsibility for providing its secretariat,
and the agreements laid out in the Notes, Clause 6, pages 16-17
should be rewritten to reflect this, rather than merely giving
6. OTHER ISSUES
We support the Agency being able to monitor,
set standards for and audit the performance of, local authority
food law enforcement while retaining day-to-day enforcement at
local level. However, we do not think this goes far enough if
the objective to achieve a more effective and consistent enforcement
regime is to be realised.
The White Paper also indicated that the Government,
through discussion with interested parties, would look further
at the Home Authority Principle and the role of LACOTS. However,
in the Draft Bill there is no reference to the Home Authority
Principle nor to the provision of central advice that would play
a role in achieving consistency of enforcement.
We note the draft Bill allows the Agency to
publish information arising from its surveillance programmes.
Although the consultation document (page 21) infers it would be
ensured such information was not "false, incomplete of misleading",
there is no mention of this in the Bill. This needs to be remedied.
The Bill also needs to make provision for a
redress procedure for those who may be wrongly "named and
We welcome the Agency being a UK body. However,
we note that it will be accountable to the devolved authorities
who under the devolution legislation will have responsibility
for food safety and standards. We note also that as the devolution
legislation is still new and the arrangements in the draft bill
require approval from the devolved authorities, the current drafting
of the Bill is subject to further review and so may change. It
must be ensured that the final legislation still reflects the
Agency being a UK-wide body so as there is a consistent approach
throughout the UK with no regional difference and/or duplication.
6.4 Wide Remit
There are a number of other issues we consider
should also fall within the remit of the Agency to help ensure
that all aspects having a bearing on food safety and standards
would be covered. These include issues currently dealt with by
the DTI, e.g., Weights and Measures legislation. We also believe
the Agency should take responsibility for the environmental impact
of food policy, as well as safety and nutrition, and for areas
that go further back to the farm, including the impact of animal
nutrition on food safety, modern methods of agriculture (including
biotechnology), and responsibility for pesticides and veterinary
medicines, allowing for evaluations on the basis of need as well
as taking into account animal welfare and environmental aspects.
7. PROPOSED LEVY
7.1 We believe the cost of the Agency should
be borne by Government, particularly if the consumer is to have
full confidence in the Agency's transparency, which would not
be the case if the food industry were involved in its financing.
7.2 It is unfair that only food retailers should
pay a levy when others in the food chain, such as food manufacturers
7.3 If the levy is to proceed, setting a flat
rate for all food retail premises regardless of size is not fair
and will cost the Co-op sector, with its large number of small
stores, significantly more than multiples. On the current basis,
the proposals will cost the Co-op Movement in the region of £250,000
compared to around £50,000 for the large supermarket groups.
The Government's assertion that the costs to a "typical"
business is expected to be negligible is ill-founded.
7.4 In considering the earlier White Paper,
we stated that, if there had to be a levy, we preferred a graduated
payment although we did not specify whether this should be determined
by size, or risk, or some other factor. The Government view is
that graduated payments would be too complex and costly to handle,
and we agree with this. We therefore believe the only alternative
which is both simple and fair is of the cost to be borne by government.
7.5 We are particularly concerned that there
appears to be no "cap" on the levy. The Bill allows
for the levy to meet "some or all" of the Agency's costs
as well as those for enforcement authorities and so could rise
to a much higher level than its initial rate (Clause 23 (2)).
Indeed in the explanatory notes to the Bill it is clearly stated
that the Government intends, over time, to raise more of the costs
of food safety work by levy so this is more than a possibility.
We therefore wish to argue strongly for a limit
to be put on expenditure under clauses 23(2)(a) and (b), and for
Clause 23(2)(c) to be deleted.