Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


Submitted by the Institute of Food Science & Technology (UK)

  The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) is the independent professional qualifying body for food scientists and technologists. It is totally independent of government, of industry and of any lobbying or special interest groups. Its professional members are elected by their virtue of their academic qualifications and their signed undertaking to comply with the Institute's ethical Code of Conduct. All of our 3,000-plus members are elected solely in their personal capacities and in no way represent the organisations in which they are employed. They work in a variety of areas, including universities and other centres of higher education, research institutions, food and related industries, consultancy, food law enforcement authorities and in government departments and agencies. The nature and structure of the Institute and the mixture of these backgrounds ensures the Institute's objectivity.

  IFST's purposes are given in the attached appendix.

  IFST through its Technical and Legislative Committee has prepared replies to the MAFF/DoH Joint Food Safety and Standards Group in response to their request for comments on the Draft Food Standards Bill and the Proposals for a Levy Scheme. We are pleased to enclose these two papers as our evidence to the Food Standards Committee.

  We have noted in our evidence that although reference is made in Part 1: Introduction, Summary and consultation document, to a requirement for the proposed Agency to produce a Business Plan with specific performance targets there is no reference to this requirement in the draft Bill.

  In this regard the IFST would like to make the point that although the first Guiding Principle is the protection of public health in relation to food this is not new and has been the principal requirement of all previous government and local authority departments with responsibility for food, not to say the entire food industry.

  To restore public confidence we need to see a clear and demonstrable improvement in food safety and in particular the microbiological safety of food. To do this we believe there are four fundamental issues, not necessarily in order of importance, which need to be addressed, namely the development of:

    1.  A declared policy and plan with defined objectives to control and improve the safety of food;

    2.  A well-founded and co-ordinated policy for the funding and development of food and nutrition research;

    3.  An effective means of clear and unequivocal communication of unbiased information to the public, particularly in the issues of risk and new technologies;

    4.  A plan to:

    —  improve education of the public in food safety and health nutrition;

    —  introduce changes in teacher training colleges and schools to develop awareness and understanding of issues affecting food safety and nutrition;

    —  encourage more positive attitudes to food and nutrition science among school leavers.

  Finally we have commented in our evidence that public confidence will also depend upon the industry continually meeting legislation requirements and being seen to operate to high standards. We believe control through strong enforcement is vital and in this regard we consider licensing (as opposed to registration) of food premises essential to achieve improvement in standards. We have elaborated on this subject in our evidence.

  The IFST would be pleased to discuss any aspect of our submission and to present oral evidence to the Committee if required.

February 1999


  The purposes of IFST are:

    1.  to serve the public interest by furthering the application of science and technology to all aspects of the supply of safe, wholesome, nutritious and attractive food, nationally and internationally;

    2.  to advance the standing of food science and technology, both as a subject and as a profession;

    3.  to assist members in their career and personal development within the profession;

    4.  to uphold professional standards of competence and integrity.


  1. Where we do not comment on a Clause, it may be assumed that we fully agree with it as stated.

Clause 1(2)

  2. The phrase in brackets in lines 3-4 omits a most important aspect of risks to consumers and we suggest that it should be extended to read:

    "(including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied or stored, prepared and used in the home)"

  3. This may be the appropriate point at which to observe that nowhere in the draft Bill is there any reference to a duty of the Agency to ensure that those responsible for food premises producing or supplying food, and those importing food, have the knowledge and competence to do so without risk to public health. This important omission should be repaired, perhaps in Clause 23(4)(b).

Clause 2(1)

  4. As "the Agency is to operate in its day-to-day business at arms length from Ministers" (Part 1, paragraph 20, page 7) and will have very considerable policy-making responsibilities and implementation powers, not least the "power to do anything" in Clause 22(1) the 10-14 non-elected persons appointed as members will exercise very considerable power. For this reason, and in the interests of openness and transparency, the prospective appointments should be open to both Parliamentary and public scrutiny, and, if need be, challenge, before being confirmed.

Clause 2(2)

  5. We welcome the inclusion of members with "experience in matters relating to food safety" but stress that these should include members with training in, and demonstrated understanding and experience of, the science and technology underlying food safety. Some of those who speak or write with apparent authority on food safety, lack these attributes.

Clause 2(4) (and Explanatory Notes, page 15)

  6. Regarding "financial or other interest . . . likely to prejudice the exercise of his duties," the example given in the Explanatory Notes on page 15 is "shares in a major food manufacturer". Other examples that should be recognised as of equal concern are membership of, or association with, organisations expressing extreme views on food or some aspect of it, or advocacy or authorship of strong views that could render a person liable to be less than objective in dealing with food matters for which the Agency will be responsible; and those who lack a recognised qualification in food science, food technology or nutrition who yet represent themselves as having professional knowledge in these fields.

Clause 9

  7. Here and in Clause 20 we consider that the Agency's powers and duties should be made clear in relation to international and EU negotiations for development of new food standards.

Clause 10(1)(a)

  8. After "safety" at the beginning of line 3, we suggest adding "including nutrition".

Clause 10(1)(b)

  9. We would like to see stated as a corollary that the Agency has a function and duty of ensuring that its sources of information are free from bias; of targeting sources of misinformation and issuing corrective information; and of operating a complaints machinery to deal with complaints against such misinformation. In this connection, we consider that the Agency should be charged to bring to the attention of the Department for Education and Employment deficiencies in the education of teachers, children and adults in food safety and nutrition.

Clause 14(6)

  10. We suggest adding at the end of line 4 the words "including funding of enforcement staff and resources".

Clause 18

  11. Although the Annex "Draft Regulatory Impact Assessment", Section 12(i), states that the Agency "will produce an Annual Report and Business Plan and will be expected to meet specified performance targets . . . " we cannot find anywhere in the draft Bill itself a provision requiring the Agency to prepare and publish an annual plan of work to be accomplished in the ensuing year, thus enabling both Parliament and the public to assess its performance against targets. An extended Clause 18 would seem to be the appropriate place to repair that omission.

Clause 18(2)

  12. As worded, 18(2)(a) "consultation with, or with representatives of, those affected" is often interpreted in practice as "consumer bodies and trade bodies" (with occasional inclusion of enforcement bodies), while "members of the public" suggests individuals. There is no wording which clearly refers to professional bodies. IFST, the professional body of food scientists and technologists, would wish to be consulted on all food safety matters within the Agency's purview and to offer inputs where appropriate. There will be instances where other professional bodies will wish to be able to make inputs or specific topics. We would therefore ask for the insertion after "those affected" of the words "and relevant professional bodies".

Clause 19(2)(a)

  13. We applaud this Clause, and its consistency with the "Guiding Principle" of proportionate risk, and also the recognition that risk assessment may, and usually does, involve uncertainty.

Clause 22(1)

  14. We have already referred to this in our comment on Clause 2.1. As worded it appears to provide unlimited, untrammelled power with no checks or balances to restrain possibly precipitate and potentially harmful action. Perhaps an introductory phrase such as "Subject to the agreement of the appropriate authorities" would serve the purpose.

Clause 23

  15. We have responded in a separate letter to the consultation paper on Proposals for a Levy Scheme, and we do not need to repeat all our comments here.

  16. It would appear that, Clause 23(4)(b) would permit Regulations to be made to impose requirements of demonstrated competence on "persons carrying on businesses". We would suggest that this be made explicit by inserting in Clause 23(4)(b) (line 40) between "impose" and "requirements" insert the words "competence and other".

  17. In conclusion, we reiterate our offer, made on several occasions including in a letter dated 2 May 1997 from our President to the Prime Minister, that the Institute is ready to offer its collective expertise in advising on optimising the structure and the food safety effectiveness of the new Agency.

  18. Likewise we repeat out assurance, also given on those occasions, that the individual members of the Institute, whether working in industry, research establishments, University departments or food law enforcement, will, in fulfilment of their Code of Professional Conduct, continue to do all they can to ensure food safety and the effectiveness of the relevant food legislation and Codes of Practice.


  1. IFST is the professional body of food scientists and technologists and is itself unaffected by the financial consequences of fund-raising in connection with the Food Standards Agency.

  2. We are, therefore, able to comment with complete objectivity and impartiality, taking account only of the overriding need to promote food safety.

  3. With food safety in mind, as a general comment we regret that the scheme has been proposed solely in terms of a money-raising exercise. We would far prefer to see the levy applied also to food manufacturers and food importers, and linked with a licence to operate that is subject to fulfilment of conditions essential to food safety. We shall revert to this when responding to Paragraph 11.

  4. Please assume that where we do not make a specific comment on a Paragraph we are in agreement with what is proposed.

Paragraph 5

  5. Paragraph 5 states "the one-off start-up costs for the Agency should be recovered over a three-year period". We assume that after the three-year period that part of the levy proceeds would no longer be needed for start-up, and we consider that it should then be allocated to local authorities for improved inspection and advice, rather than swelling the money for on-going Agency costs (as envisaged in Paragraph 14).

Paragraph 11

  6. We regret that "the Government has no plans for the comprehensive licensing of food premises" but note that it "is prepared, as with the case of butchers, to consider extending licensing to other individual sectors where there are justified public health concerns."

  7. We have consistently pointed out for many years, and continue to consider, that comprehensive licensing, with specific conditions attached to the granting and retention of the licence, is essential to address very real public health concerns. Indeed, the incidence of food poisoning would be at a lower level than it is, and Wishaw might very well never have happened if the then Government had acted on the recommendations for comprehensive licensing by its own appointed Richmond Committee and by IFST, and for specific licensing of butchers' shops also by the Richmond Committee, in 1990. The Wishaw incident has triggered specific action for butchers, but there could be serious major outbreaks of food poisoning as a result of technical ignorance or incompetence in other sectors concerned with manufacture, preparation, distribution or sale of food. We emphasise that "stricter enforcement of the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations and parallel Regulations"—sometimes propounded an alternative—is not an adequate substitute for licensing with conditions.

  8. To illustrate why we regard it as essential to ensure that as a mandatory requirement to operate food premises the proprietor or some other responsible person has demonstrated food safety knowledge appropriate to the activities, we cite the case of botulism in hazelnut yogurt in June 1989, the largest recorded botulism outbreak in the UK, in which 27 people were affected and one died.

  9. Botulinum toxin was already present in the hazelnut paste before it had been added to the yogurt. How? A small manufacturer who manufactured canned fruit pulps and sold them to relatively small yogurt manufacturers for incorporation in fruit yogurts, decided to diversify into making canned hazelnut paste, but used the same canning procedure and process conditions as had proved successful with fruit pulps. There was no-one there with the food safety knowledge that hazelnut paste would require a far more stringent heat process than acid fruits. It would not even have needed someone with sufficient specialist expertise to design the required heat process, but at least someone with sufficient food science knowledge to appreciate that a more stringent heat process was required and to realise the need to seek the advice of a specialist expert.

  10. That sort of lack of relevant food safety knowledge unfortunately obtains in many small and some medium food manufacturers and in many food importers, as well as in most small and medium caterers and retailers.

  11. In this instance, however much enforcement inspection had occurred, even up to the day before the decision to diversify, they would not have found anything to be concerned about and would not necessarily have found any departure from satisfactory practices. Inspection after the event and prosecution (as happened) would have been (and was) to have shut the stable door after the botulism horse had bolted. The example is one which cannot be satisfactorily guarded against by better enforcement of existing Regulations, but, we would suggests, only by a specific legal requirement for the proprietor of food manufacturing premises (or some responsible person) to have demonstrated food safety knowledge appropriate to the activities involved. This, we further suggest, can only be achieved by licensing conditional (inter alia) on that being the case. The other requirements to be fulfilled would, of course, by hygienically satisfactory premises and operations.

  12. In a document dated 2 April 1998, provided to JFSSG at that time, we gave detailed recommendations on how such a licensing scheme could be structured (see Annex).

Paragraph 15

  13. We are mystified by the sentence "Failure to register premises or supplying false information will in future be treated as a criminal offence". Surely that is already the case under the Food Premises (Registration) Regulations 1991, as amended.

Paragraph 16

  14. As already indicated, we would prefer to see the inclusion of food manufacturers and food importers, thereby also ensuring "that home-produced and imported foods are affected equally".

Paragraph 19

  15. As street vendors of food are required to register, it would appear that they would not be exempt from the levy under Paragraph 19; and we do not object to that.

  16. There is no mention of childminders regularly providing food, either in Paragraph 19 or in Food Safety Act 1990: Code of Practice No. 11, Appendix 2. In the absence of exemption in the latter, presumably they ought to register. We understand that generally speaking they do not, but are nevertheless known to and inspected by local Environmental Health Departments as a result of liaison with local Social Services Departments, though we do not know whether that arrangement is the practice in all local authorities. We have no strong views on whether such childminders should be exempt from the levy, but their food provision arrangements most certainly should be inspected.

Paragraph 21

  17. We have no objection in principle to the exemption from the levy of the premises referred to in this paragraph, provided it is clear that the sort of diversification often seen in newsagents, e.g., into selling sandwiches, would render them liable to registration and to the levy.

  18. In response to the invitation here to comment on the scope of the scheme, we have already done so in our opening general comment and in our comments on Paragraphs 11 and 16 above.

Paragraphs 24 and 25

  19. It is our firm conviction that without improved local resources "on the ground" to carry out food safety inspection, help, advice and training much of the food safety intention of the Agency will be frustrated. We remain of the opinion that the bulk of the proceeds of the levy should be retained by local authorities, and ring-fenced specifically for improved food safety activities, with an undertaking by the Government that it will not "give with one hand and take with the other" by cutting other government subventions to local authorities.




  Note. This document represents an amplification of the framework recommendations included as an Appendix to the IFST response dated 10 February 1998 to the White Paper on the Food Standards Agency.


  The two-fold food safety purposes of licensing are:

  1. To set licensing conditions, the fulfilment of which will optimise food safety; and

  2. To prevent the provision of food otherwise than in fulfilment of those conditions by making it an offence to operate without a licence or in contravention of the licence conditions.


  "Food establishment" means any food premises, and any commercial operation in relation to any food or food contact material ("food premises", "commercial operation", "contact material" and words or terms used within their definitions, having the respective meanings assigned to them in the Food Safety Act 1990).

  Thus single site businesses, and each individual site in a multi-site business, would require a licence, and licensing would cover farms, food source transportation, manufacture of food and food contact materials, food distribution, wholesaling, retailing, catering, and importing of food sources or foods.


  Licensing of all food establishments, with the licence dependent on:

    —  hygienically satisfactory premises, equipment and operations; and

    —  demonstrated food safety knowledge and competence, appropriate to the nature of the activity or activities being carried out by the establishment, on the part of the proprietor or the responsible person in the establishment.


  Licensing already applies, piecemeal, in limited types of food establishment (e.g., dairies meat cutting plants). IFST has long argued for the licensing of all food establishments under the above conditions. Licensing was, of course, one of the recommendations of the Government-appointed Richmond Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, in its two reports in 1990 and 1991. The recommendation was not accepted by the Government of the day, on the grounds that it would be "unnecessary and burdensome to business", and in that context "establishment" particularly referred to "small businesses". More recently licensing was recommended in the Pennington Report in respect of the food establishments with which that Report was concerned.


  Food, dealt with by an establishment lacking appropriate food safety knowledge or good hygiene, has the potential to cause illness or death. We do not allow even a small delivery business to operate with an unroadworthy van or a driver without a driving licence. Why allow the potential equivalent (with equally lethal potential consequences) in even a small food business? If licensing under the proposed conditions means that some small food businesses would not be permitted to operate, so be it—a food establishment that is incapable of knowing what must be done to provide its food safely, ought not to be in the food business. In the event of a serious food poisoning outbreak, it would be of little consolation to the bereaved of those who died, and to those made seriously ill, to be told "Ah, but it was only a small business".


  The administration of such a scheme would not have to be "invented" from scratch. Licensing in the form of "approval" requirements already exists piecemeal for dairy, fresh meat, meat-cutting and meat products establishments, and indeed the provisions (including exemption and appeals procedures) in the Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1995 could provide a readily adaptable model for a general licensing procedure for all food establishments. The Approval of Dairy Establishments provisions do not explicitly require demonstrated food safety knowledge and competence, but do explicitly require the proprietor to carry out specified food safety tasks which could not be carried our without such knowledge and competence. We would, however, recommend that the requirement for demonstrated food safety knowledge and competence by explicitly stated in general licensing regulations, which we hope that the Government will introduce at an early date, without waiting for the Food Standards Agency to come into existence. In this connection we note the proposed Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Butchers' Shops) Amendment Regulations 1998.


  The requirements would be those already required by EHOs in relation to the Food Hygiene Regulations and related Codes of Practice. For a licence to be granted they would have to be up to the standard that satisfied the local enforcement authority, and a licence could be revoked for serious failure in these respects.


  Criteria for "demonstrated food safety knowledge and competence" would need to be defined, in relation to different types of establishment, and to be appropriate to each type.

  In all cases, all relevant personnel working in the establishment should have undergone basic food hygiene training appropriate to the nature of the operations.

  A food manufacturing establishment should require appropriately qualified personnel with adequate technical support staff, and even the smallest such establishment should require at least one appropriately qualified person.

  A non-manufacturing food establishment with multiple sites should require appropriately qualified personnel centrally, and, on each site, at least one responsible person with a minimum of having undergone recognised food hygiene training and gained a certificate at least at intermediate level, appropriate to the nature of the operations.

  A single site non-manufacturing food establishment should require, as a very minimum, the proprietor or a responsible person in the establishment having undergone training and gained a certificate at least at intermediate level, in general food hygiene including understanding of the basic principles of HACCP, and in more specific hygiene/safety aspects of the foods handled by the establishment. For small businesses, there might be a limited period of grace after the introduction of Regulations, to allow time for the acquisition of such training (see also transitional period, below).

  Importers. Substantial quantities of foods and of food sources are obtained from overseas suppliers who are not governed by UK legislation, but imported by specialist importers or UK major wholesalers or retailers. It seems impracticable to attempt a system of licensing of all overseas suppliers, and that the practical solution is to build the appropriate licence conditions into the importers' licences. There is precedent for this approach in the "due diligence" provision for importers in Section 21 3(b) of the Food Safety Act 1990 and also in the responsibilities of importers in respect of imported organic foods. The condition for importers should be that systems for assessing, monitoring and auditing the food safety systems and performance of their overseas suppliers are in place, and that the importer has the appropriate number of appropriately qualified persons capable of carrying out such evaluations of suppliers.


  Exemptions of the kinds provided under the Dairy Establishments provisions, or others, could apply, but great care needs to be taken in considering exemptions. During the period of the passage of the Food Safety Bill through Parliament, the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food ridiculed the licensing suggestion by rhetorically asking whether it was really being suggested that the lady serving tea in her small tea-room needed a licence and a PhD in food science. It was pointed out to him that the lady could also be serving sandwiches and cream cakes, and for these, while not needing a PhD, she certainly needed food hygiene and safety know-how.


  Revocation of a licence could relate to a serious hygiene/food safety offence, or to the conditions of the licence no longer being fulfilled. There should be a need to reapply if an only person in a establishment fulfilling the food safety knowledge requirement left the establishment without an appropriate replacement, or if the establishment wished to operate in a food sector not previously involved. The draft provisions in the proposed Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Butchers' Shops) Amendment Regulations 1998 could provide an appropriate model.


  The Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1995, Part IV provide a detailed model for procedures for appealing against refusal of a licence or revocation of a licence. Alternatively, the draft provisions in the proposed Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Butchers' Shops) Amendment Regulations 1998 could provide an appropriate model.


  There might be a suitable, but not indefinitely extended, period of "grace" to accommodate the necessary training (or employment of a trained person), in small establishments where no-one was already trained.


  There is clearly a problem for local enforcement authorities of having simultaneously to assess applications and issue licences for very large numbers of businesses. Perhaps a suitable basis for phasing according to priorities exists in the Inspection Rating System set out in Annex 1(i) of Code of Practice No 9 under Section 40 of the Food Safety Act 1990. This rates premises by their potential hazard based on type of food, method of processing and number of consumers at risk. Using section 2 and 3 of Inspection Rating system, it would be simple to break the range of scores into a number of bands to give an order of priority for assessment and issuing of licences.


  These principles would, of course, need to be put into a suitable form by lawyers, although to the extent that they refer to existing models and particularly to the draft provisions in the proposed Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Butchers' Shops) Amendment Regulations 1998, it may be presumed that the latter have already had the attention of lawyers.

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