Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


MEMORANDUM 34

Submitted by PTF (Provision Trade Federation)

1. INTRODUCTION

  1.1 PTF's members are companies of all sizes involved in supplying bacon and ham: chilled and processed meats: dairy products of all kinds, including milk powders, cheese, butter, yogurt and other dairy desserts; and canned foods. Our members include importers and exporters of these products, as well as processors. The combined turnover of our membership in relation to these products is in the region of £4-5 billion.

  1.2 Food quality and safety are critically important to our members who must play their part in ensuring that the foodstuffs or ingredients in which they deal comply with all relevant food legislation, as well as establishing and maintaining their reputations with their customers in the UK, the rest of EU and third countries.

  1.3 PTF is committed to helping its members to meet the standards demanded in relation to food safety and all other areas proposed for inclusion in the Food Standards Agency remit which are relevant to our members' areas of business. To this end, we welcome the introduction of the Food Standards Agency.

2. FUNDING OF THE AGENCY

  2.1 We are disappointed that, despite considerable opposition, the Government is continuing to propose that some of the costs of the new Agency should be recovered by means of a levy on selected sectors of the food industry. We are of the view that a persuasive argument for industry funding has not yet been made, and therefore oppose anything other than full government funding.

  2.2 In our previous submissions to the Government on this subject, we have requested more information on how the proposed additional industry funds will be deployed and why existing funding would not be sufficient. The Government's consultation paper on the proposals for a levy scheme includes provisional figures for one-off costs and new recurring costs, but no supporting documentation to illustrate how the Government arrived at these figures. A detailed budget clearly identifying the basis of the provisional costs must be made available for public scrutiny if the Government is to satisfy those who object to the proposed funding scheme and to meet its objective of being open and transparent in all areas.

  2.3 The Government's consultation document on funding the Agency proposes that a charge of £90 would be levied on food retail and catering premises. However, the draft Bill does not limit the charge or the sector, and permits the Secretary of State to make regulations that provide for the imposition of a levy in respect of "such food premises as may be prescribed in the regulations". This is equivalent to demanding that the food industry supply the Government with a blank cheque to fund the Agency.

  2.4 We note that the proposed £90 fee is provisional and "will need to be revised to take account of further detailed discussions with local authorities on the costs to them of operating the levy scheme". As the Government has not yet ascertained the collection costs of the proposed scheme, this begs the question as to how the Government can estimate a proposed fee or guarantee that the proposed levy scheme is cost-effective.

3. APPOINTMENT OF MEMBERS OF THE AGENCY

  3.1 The draft Bill states that before appointing a member of the Agency, consideration must be given to whether that person has any financial or other interest which is likely, in the opinion of the appropriate authorities, to prejudice the exercise of his duties. We question how this judgement could be made in practice. For example, would anyone employed by the food industry be deemed to have a financial interest? We would not wish to see potential applicants who have valuable food safety experience excluded from membership of the Agency on the grounds that they currently work within the food industry. In order to ensure that the Agency is able to adopt a sensible, balanced position on food safety and standards issues, its members must be selected from all sectors with an interest in food, including the food industry itself.

  3.2 We welcome the fact that the "governing body" of the Agency will not be called the Commission. Use of the name "Commission" would have become confusing as many documents refer to the European Commission as the "Commission".

4. MONITORING OF ENFORCEMENT ACTION

  4.1 We welcome the proposal that the Agency should monitor the performance of enforcement authorities in enforcing legislation. We believe that a rigorous review of the enforcement system is needed to address perceived inadequacies in areas such as intensity and consistency of enforcement.

March 1999


 
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