Submitted by Marks & Spencer
Following the request for written evidence to
the House of Commons Food Standards Select Committee, we are pleased
to reply as follows.
Essentially our views have not changed from
the notes which we sent in response to the original White Paper
in early 1998. We recognise that our comments at that time on
licensing have not been carried through in the draft Bill, but
this in no way diminishes our support for the creation of an independent
Food Standards Agency.
We believe the contents of the Draft Bill represent
a significant initiative which will improve food safety standards
in the UK.
RESPONSE TO THE WHITE PAPER ON THE FOOD STANDARDS
We welcome the publication of the recent White
Paper "The Food Standards Agencya Force for Change"
and we endorse the majority of its proposals.
We agree with the Guiding Principles set out
in the White Paperin particular that any decisions or action
taken by the Agency should be in proportion to the risk, paying
due regard to the costs as well as the benefits to those affected,
and without raising unjustified alarms. This measured approach
reflects our own experience of risk management in the food supply
This initiative presents an opportunity for
significant improvements to the structures that help to assure
a supply of safe and wholesome food in this country.
We are particularly pleased to note that the
Agency's Commission will consist of people with relevant experience
and will not simply give representation to any particular interest
We will not raise again issues on which we have
previously commented, such as nutrition, and where we are not
in full agreement with the proposals in the White Paper.
We believe the priority now must be to make
the Food Standards Agency a success and we will give it our full
support. We endorse the view that there is no need to wait for
the formal establishment of the Agencychanging of attitudes
must start at once.
We would like to respond to some specific issues
raised in the White Paper as follows:
We are not aware of any significant areas where
existing legislation in relation to food safety is deficient.
We repeat our earlier comments calling for a greater willingness
by enforcement authorities to use their existing powers to stop
unsafe food practices on a consistent basis across the country.
A firm drive is needed to ensure that existing premises and people
involved in food businesses are "fit for purpose" to
meet the required standards.
The White Paper acknowledges that the scope
for legislation may be limited by our European obligations to
maintain the Single European Market. In this situation where legislation
may not be possible, we think it is important to remember that
any calls for voluntary action must not place our customers or
UK producers at a disadvantage with respect to foods imported
from abroad which might not be obliged to follow such guidelines.
We have previously commented on the essential
need for technically competent staff to be responsible in every
food business for managing food safety controls. This principle
applies equally to every element in the food chain, no matter
how large or smallfrom farm to plate.
We are attracted therefore to a scheme where
a licence is required to operate a food business and which is
conditional on having appropriately trained and qualified staff,
together with premises adequate for the purpose intended.
In every case, the level of qualification demanded
should be proportionate to the potential risks associated with
a particular kind of food business. Many of the elements of this
approach are already in place under existing legislationfor
example the obligation to carry out a risk assessment and to provide
adequate training for staff involved with food handling.
What seems to be missing is a legal requirement
that the managers of a food business have an understanding of
why these measures are important and a commitment to ensure they
This approach will, in turn, focus attention
on the competence of enforcement authorities and their own ability
to assess compliance with requirements of any operating licence.
We recognise the arguments about the funding
of the new Agency. Clearly, the money available to the Agency
must be adequate to ensure its success. At the same time, the
priorities of the Agency must be set in the light of any budgetary
We believe the way in which money is raised
to fund the Agency must be by the most efficient and fair means,
avoiding an expensive bureaucracy. Whatever the outcome of this
debate, the customer must be given value for money, and will ultimately
have to pay the cost.
We generally support the proposals concerning
the sharing of research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency
with the existing structures.
We do however believe it is particularly important
for the Agency to identify gaps in the research strategies of
existing groups in relation to food safety. For example, more
recognition should be given to the need to improve scientific
knowledge of the links between animal health and food safety.
The recent events concerning E. Coli 0157 contamination
of meat underline this point.
The Agency should also have a role to identify
unnecessary duplication of research and bring a national focus
to work involving food safety.
We hope that our comments will be helpful and
we are of course prepared to provide any additional information
that may be needed.
We look forward to participating in and contributing
to the success of the Food Standards Agency.