Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


Submitted by the Food and Drink Federation


  The Food and Drink Federation is the principal association representing the UK food and drink manufacturing industry.

Executive Summary

    (i)  FDF fully supports the Government's decision to establish an Agency with food safety and standards interests across the whole food chain and believes that the Agency's focus must be on food safety. The openness and accountability of the Agency are essential to its credibility and FDF welcomes the requirement for a publicly-available statement of general objectives and practices; the intention to incorporate the Guiding Principles into legislation or reflect them in the statement; and the required public availability of the information on which the judgments of the Agency are based. The Agency should review the openness of the decision making procedures of the advisory committees. In taking account of the interests of members of the Agency, necessary expertise must not be excluded. The same consideration applies to the advisory committees. FDF emphasises the importance of the Agency being responsible and accountable in the issuing of information so as not to cause undue public concern.

    (ii)  Interfaces with other bodies and responsibilities for the assessment of information and provision of public advice must be made clear by appropriate, publicly-available, concordats. There must be clearly established responsibilities, and a clearly understood basis, for decisions on the confidentiality of information before its publication, in order not to jeopardise the flow of information between the industry, the Agency and enforcement authorities. FDF urges that the opportunity be taken to move towards a unified and centralised food law enforcement service, while retaining delivery of enforcement at the local level, and that this be supported by an adequately resourced Public Analyst service.

    (iii)  Regarding funding, FDF remains of the view that, in principle, the work of the Agency, as a public body, should be publicly funded. FDF welcomes, however, the Government's intention not to discriminate against UK food producers in collecting the proposed levy to meet the Agency's establishment costs.


  1. FDF fully supports the Government's decision to establish an Agency to take a strategic view of food safety and standards issues across the whole of the food chain and able to make public its views on matters related to food and public health. FDF attaches great importance to the success of the Agency and believes that it has the greatest chance of being effective if it is principally focused on food safety and protecting public health.

  2. In several places, the draft Bill adds to the Agency's responsibility for food safety "other interests of consumers in relation to food". FDF seeks clarification of the intended scope of this expression. Reference to "food safety, consumer protection and other health interests of consumers in relation to food" would reflect the terms used in the Food Safety Act and, whilst recognising the wider remit of the Agency, would both reinforce the focus of its activities and clarify that there are wider aspects of food supply, such as prices, which are appropriately dealt with elsewhere. It would be consistent with the statement, in paragraph 18 of Part I of the Consultation Document, that the wording "must clearly be read in the context of the Bill as a whole and does not expand the scope of the Agency beyond that described in the White Paper".

  3. In considering inclusion of "other important objectives such as the need to take account of sustainable development" (paragraph 20 of Introduction), food safety must always be the main concern of the Agency.


  4. FDF welcomes the fact that the Guiding Principles will either be incorporated into legislation or reflected in the statement of general objectives and practices.

  5. FDF welcomes the requirement to draw up a publicly-available statement of general objectives and practices and the need for the approval of the Secretary of State for Health and the devolved authorities for the statement.

  6. FDF welcomes the requirement of clause 18(2)(c) regarding public availability of the information on which the judgments of the Agency are based. Regarding the operation of the advisory committees, whilst their outputs are publicly available, FDF believes that there should always be appropriate opportunity for industry input. The Agency should review the openness and transparency of the decision-making procedures. There appears to be no obligation regarding the timely publication of the advice of the independent advisory committees. It is also noted that the Agency is enabled (clause 11) but not committed to publish advice given in accordance with clauses 9 and 10, including to Ministers. Would this, however, be made available to an interested party on specific request?


  7. FDF welcomes the Government's intention, in collecting a levy, not to discriminate against UK food producers. FDF remains of the view, however, that in principle, the work of the Agency, as a public body, should be publicly funded.


  8. FDF would encourage the Government to pursue the envisaged underpinning of the relationships between the Agency and other departments, and with the devolved authorities, by a series of administrative concordats and welcomes the intention that they be made publicly available, in the interest of transparency and clarity of operation. As the distribution of responsibilities between departments and the Agency will have a direct impact upon parts of the food chain, there should be opportunity for interested parties to make input when the cocordats are being developed. It is essential that there be a seamless management of food safety in the public interest. FDF is concerned that responsibilities for the assessment of scientific information and the communication of public advice should be clearly and openly established.

  9. Regarding pesticides and veterinary medicines, FDF welcomes the right of the Agency to nominate a member of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Veterinary Products Committee to ensure that their work is being positively monitored for issues of food safety.

  10. FDF notes the references to "provision of readily intelligible, scientifically-based information about the nutritional content of foods and impartial and accurate advice on a balanced diet", in paragraph 23 of Part I of the Consultation Document. Given that there will be several departments and agencies which could both assess scientific information and communicate nutrition advice, FDF believes that clarification of lead roles is an appropriate and important issue for the intended administrative concordats.

  11. It should be made clear by what means the Agency will embrace the food safety and environmental effects of GM crops and foods derived from them, currently dealt with by the ACNFP, which will have formal links with the Agency, and ACRE which will not. It might be appropriate for this to be the subject of a concordat.

  12. The concept of an overarching body to deal with issues relating to modern biotechnology, and specifically genetic modification, has recently been under consideration as a result of criticisms that the current advisory committee structure leaves a number of gaps, particularly in respect of environmental issues. FDF supports a more holistic approach to modern biotechnology and genetic modification, which should be addressed in its broadest context, e.g., to include medical and pharmaceutical uses. FDF's response to the Government review of the Framework for overseeing Developments in Biotechnology welcomed the establishment of the new Ministerial Group on Biotechnology and Genetic Modification as ideally placed to conduct a review into the strengths and weaknesses of the existing systems by bringing together the various government departments concerned. Clearly the FSA, with its responsibilities for the safety of food produced from modern biotecnology, must be linked into any system dealing generally with genetic modification.

  13. FDF would favour the establishment of a forum to co-ordinate scientific advice from specialist committees, thus ensuring that Ministers are comprehensively advised. Such a forum should consist of the Chairmen of the existing advisory committees with GM responsibilities and any additional expert representation deemed appropriate to the task.


  14. FDF is most concerned at the continuing tendency to exclude from discussions those members likely to have the most relevant knowledge and practical expertise.

  15. There is a growing perception that any individual with direct or indirect commercial interests, such as industrial employment or ownership of shares in relevant companies, should automatically be barred from membership of the Agency or its Advisory Committees because of conflicts of interests and the risk of actual or perceived bias. FDF categorically rejects such a notion. In the case of food-related issues, much expertise resides within the industry itself. FDF believes that the mechanisms for declaration of interests and ensuring the confidentiality of commercially sensitive data are robust and any suggestions that industrial employment or connections should automatically disqualify otherwise very appropriate candidates should be firmly rejected.


  16. In commenting on the White Paper, FDF proposed that direct reference to confidentiality of information should be part of the Guiding Principles. The draft Bill requires that the Agency must take account of confidentiality considerations, except where there is an overriding public interest in publication. Whilst recognising that the detail is subject to amendment in the light of a Freedom of Information Act, FDF believes that clear understanding is needed of what constitutes "an overriding public interest" and who would be responsible for deciding that the definition applies in any particular case. There should be clear guidance to aid the Agency in determining what information is confidential and not, therefore, to be put in the public domain. FDF suggests that it should be the members of the Agency who decide on whether or not to publish information, on the basis provided in clause 11(2), taking full account of the specific concerns of industry.

  17. For industry to participate fully and effectively it must feel that confidential information will be protected, be it financially, scientifically or commercially sensitive. FDF believes that persons authorised by the Agency to carry out enforcement duties should be under the same legal constraints regarding confidential information as are authorised officers under Section 32(7) of the Food Safety Act 1990. In addition, the responsibility of those authorised by the Agency for enforcement purposes in respecting the confidentiality of information should be elaborated in the statement of general objectives and practices.

  18. Whilst the Notes on clauses explain that information gained in the course of the Agency's observations could not subsequently be used in evidence in criminal or civil proceedings against the food business involved, this is not clear from the draft Bill itself.


  19. FDF is strongly concerned that the draft Bill gives to the Agency a range of enforcement-type powers without the controls and constraints which are placed upon authorised officers of food authorities by the Food Safety Act.


  20. FDF is participating in the consultations on the future structure of UK food law enforcement which are running in parallel with consultation on the Draft Bill. The envisaged role of the Agency in monitoring food law enforcement by local authorities, and seeking to ensure a more consistent application of the law, is most welcome. FDF hopes that, as a result of the parallel consultations, the opportunity will be taken to move towards a unified and centralised food law enforcement service, while retaining delivery of enforcement at the local level. Whatever the future structure of enforcement, FDF recommends, as a minimum, the concentration of local authority food law enforcement expertise in officers capable of enforcing both food safety and food standards issues. This would be a significant step towards ensuring the expertise of enforcement officers in relevant areas of food technology and further enhancing confidence in the enforcement system. It would also provide the opportunity further to develop skills where needed in proactive, preventive food safety management in line with the principles of HACCP.

  21. The Agency should consider the use of IT to facilitate contact with and between local authority enforcement officers. Consideration should also be given to requiring the Agency to initiate and fund research in support of enforcement activities and to support provision for the continuing professional development of enforcement officers and Public Analysts.

  22. FDF strongly supports the Home Authority Principle and is concerned that some aspects of the Agency's authority to publish information on commercial operations held by a local authority (clause 14 (4)) could jeopardise the willingness of companies to provide information to the Home Authority. This could thus weaken the operation of an important administrative arrangement which serves the interests of efficient and effective and consistent enforcement.


  23. The establishment of the Agency provides an opportunity for the co-ordination of all UK surveillance activities, including the results obtained from Public Analyst surveys, in order to place all results in the fullest possible context and to enable identification of national priorities for further investigation. (Paragraphs 25 and 26).

  24. FDF welcomes the recognition of the reports of reviews of the Public Analyst Service in England and Wales and the food-related Scientific Services in Scotland (Paragraph 30). Account will no doubt be taken of the current review of Public Analyst arrangements in Northern Ireland. FDF strongly supports the recommendations of the Review Group in respect of Public Analyst arrangements in England and Wales, and similarly that in respect of Scotland, believing that an adequately co-ordinated and resourced Public Analyst Service, used by all food authorities, is an essential complement to an effective system of UK food law enforcement. The establishment of the Agency provides an opportunity to ensure national co-ordination of the Public Analyst Service and the availability of access to advanced analytical facilities and expertise.


  25. In assessing all scientific evidence, there should be an obligation on the Agency that: all relevant evidence be examined; the evidence be assessed systematically; different forms of evidence be discriminated between on grounds of quality; the grounds for opinion be made publicly available; and subjects be re-assessed regularly as appropriate.

  26. As recognised in Guiding Principle No. 5, the Agency must be responsible to issue information in such a way that it would not cause undue public concern, whether this be due to its imbalance, incompleteness, lack of supporting advice or any other factor. For example, the communication of general nutrition advice needs to be given careful consideration to avoid its mis-application by individuals. Part I of the Consultation Document suggests that Clause 19 of the draft Bill is relevant to the requirement to avoid raising unjustified alarm. It must be ensured that this is so. Given the importance of this issue, it would be appropriate to set out the requirements in the statement of general objectives and practices provided for in Clause 18.

  27. FDF believes that an important part of improving consumer safety in respect of food is appropriate education in food choice and handling. It is hoped that the Agency will play a part in this, including promotion of food safety and preparation as part of the National Curriculum. FDF recommends that the Agency develop a concordat with the DfEE to this end.


  28. It is recognised that the practical implications of devolution have yet to be fully evaluated. It is essential, however, to ensure that devolved powers do not give rise to differing legal requirements in respect of food safety in different parts of the UK. Food safety problems do not respect territorial boundaries and the food and drink manufacturing industry, members of which make products for distribution throughout the UK, must be able to operate to a consistent set of requirements.


  29. Once the Food Standards Act is adopted, a consolidated Food Safety Act should be published, incorporating the numerous consequential amendments and thus facilitating a clear understanding of the legal requirements.

March 1999

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