Submitted by J Sainsbury plc
1. GROUP PROFILE
1.1 J Sainsbury plc is one of the world's leading
retailers. Its UK food retail subsidiariesSainsbury's Supermarkets
Ltd and Savacentreoperate 411 supermarkets and 13 hypermarkets,
respectively. The Sainsbury Group also owns Shaw's which operates
121 supermarkets and Star Markets which comprises 53 stores in
1.2 Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd is the largest
part of J Sainsbury plc. Last year it sold about 9 billion food
and non-food items. It works with over 2,000 suppliers who provide
some 12,000 food lines and 9,000 non-food lines for sale to the
9 million customers who shop in Sainsbury's supermarket each week.
1.3 All the 117,000 staff working in Sainsbury's
supermarkets and depots are trained, at the company's expense,
to handle food products safely. Of the 12,000 food lines sold
by Sainsbury's over 3,000 are chilled, about 1,000 are frozen
and the remainder are ambient. Only a limited number of the delicatessen,
bakery and meat counter lines involve direct handling by members
of staff who receive a high level of externally accredited food
safety and hygiene training. Sainsbury's has a long history of
putting food safety at the heart of its business. In 1998 we played
a leading role in the production of the Department of Health's
Retail Industry Guide to Food Hygiene. We believe it will make
a significant contribution to ensuring retail food safety.
2. THE FOOD
2.1 We welcome the draft Bill's clear articulation
of the principles to which the Agency will operate. We particularly
welcome its emphasis that the Agency's main concern is food safety
and that it must act in a proportionate manner taking account
of risks, costs, benefits and the advice of the advisory committees.
2.2 We note that clauses 18 and 19 provide for
the Agency to carry out its functions in accordance with a statement
of objectives drawn up by the agency and approved by Ministers.
It is essential that this statement adheres as closely as possible
to the principles, first set out in the White Paper, which so
significantly influence the content of the draft Bill.
2.3 Clause I also defines the main food standards
objectives of the Agency. We welcome its recognition that a UK-wide
approach to food standards is required. A UK-wide approach should
also be taken to nutrition issues.
2.4 From paragraph 2.3 of the consultation document
it is clear that the detailed working arrangement for nutritional
issues will be covered by administrative concordats between the
Department of Health and the Agency. It is essential that clarification
is provided on the role of the Agency in nutrition issues prior
to its establishment. We ask that the proposed concordats on
nutrition be made available for public consultation as soon as
3. APPOINTMENT OF
3.1 We support the Bill's requirement for the
Agency's membership to have a reasonable balance of relevant skills
and experience'. We believe it is essential that members should
have practical knowledge of the food industry and not rely simply
on theory. The Agency should include people with a proven track
record and experience of food safety issues which arise in modern
food production and food retailing. The Agency must recruit staff
with proper food technology and nutrition qualifications and food
industry experience. Such experience is essential if the Agency
is to advise government and the public effectively, and if it
is to carry out its `duty to keep itself properly informed.
For those members of staff who do not have experience of the modern
food industry, the Agency should encourage them to be seconded
to work in the industry as part of their development.
3.2 We support the provision under paragraph
9 of Schedule I, obliging the Agency to establish a register of
private interests. However, this should not be used as a mechanism
for excluding individual with practical experience of working
in the food industry from sitting as Agency commissioners.
3.3 The Agency's commission must have some knowledge
of the practical management of food safety issues as well as an
understanding and appreciation of the food industry. We entirely
accept that it would be inappropriate for members to be chosen
as representatives of particular sectors. However, it would be
shortsighted if previous experience of the food industry was to
be regarded as a disqualification from serving.
3.4 Subsection 4 of Clause 3 recognises that
particular arrangements will be required for Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland. We appreciate that because of devolution, separate
arrangements have to be made for these parts of the United Kingdom.
We are keen that these arrangements will ensure a unified approach
throughout the United Kingdom. Food safety, food standards and
nutrition issues do not fit neatly into regional compartments.
It is unnecessary for policy and practice in these areas to develop
regional divergence for its own sake.
4. ADVISORY COMMITTEES
4.1 We note the relationship that the Agency
will have with the advisory committees, but are concerned about
the power which it has under clause 6 to `wind them up as it chooses.'
As with its powers to establish new committees, we hope that such
action will only be taken after consultation with the Department
of Health and other interested parties.
5. THE FUNCTIONS
Clauses 9-12 Advice, information and assistance
5.1 As the primary source of policy advice to
government and information to the general public in relation to
food safety, it is essential the Agency ensures that any advice
or information which is offers is based on the soundest scientific
evidence available. Recent decisions on beef-on-the bone and contradictory
scientific advice with regard to the safety of genetically modified
foods highlight the fact that often the first casualty, when food
safety issues are discussed in public, is objective and dispassionate
science. The necessity for the Agency to operate on the soundest
scientific evidence available is of particular importance in view
of the powers given to it under clause 11 to make public any of
its advice to ministers.
5.2 Clause 10 sets out the extensive nature
of the Agency's communication role. In our response to the White
Paper, we said that the Government had not given enough recognition
of the importance of this role to the success of the Agency. We
reiterate that it is necessary for the Agency to engage in a strong
communications programme if it is to play an effective part in
restoring consumer confidence in the food we eat. The agency must
employ experienced communications professionals capable of establishing
effective plans and procedures for dealing with food safety and
nutrition issues of both a long term and short term nature. Without
such plans and procedures, the Agency will fail in its duty to
provide advice and information on food safety and nutrition issues
without "raising unjustified alarm".
5.3 Through public education and information,
specifically on food hygiene, the Agency has an important role
to play in raising awareness amongst the general public of their
own responsibility for food safety and nutrition. In addition,
the Bill should stress the importance of the Agency's role
as an independent source of information to improve consumer understanding
of new food technologies, processes and products.
5.4 In developing its communication strategy
the Agency should take into consideration the important role that
the major supermarkets continue to play in providing information
to customers on issues of food safety, new food processes and
6. MONITORING AND
6.1 This part of the draft Bill goes some way
to providing a national framework within which local authority
food law enforcement can operate in a more consistent and professional
manner than at present. The Agency's power to monitor the quality
of enforcement practice is an important first step in improving
the current enforcement of food law. The provision under clause
14 allowing the Agency to "name and shame" local authorities
and the power given to Ministers under clause 15, to "set
performance targets in relation to enforcement", are particularly
welcome. We are convinced that the efforts which the agency
will make to improve the quality and consistency of food law enforcement
will do more than any other single activity to restore the public's
confidence in the safety of the food it eats.
6.2 The powers set out at clauses 14 and 15
are significant. It is essential that both the Agency and Ministers
use them to full effect. It would be negligent of both if they
were as little used as those set out in section 41 of the Food
Safety Act 1990enabling Ministers to "require reports
and returns" from local authorities with regard to enforcement
6.3 While welcoming the new powers to monitor
enforcement, we are disappointed that the draft Bill does not
take a more radical approach to improving enforcement. Ever since
the publication of "The James Report" there has been
little or no serious discussion as to the effectiveness, efficiency
and value for money of the present food law enforcement arrangements.
6.4 We pointed out in our response to the White
Paper that the present arrangements are unnecessarily inconsistent
and ill-resourced. Historically, local authorities have been reluctant
to give food law enforcement the priority it deserves. In 1998
this was highlighted by a leaked report from Westminster Council.
The report admitted that the council did not even know how many
food premises it had under its supervision. Without such basic
information, it is unsurprising that food law is often ineffectively
6.5 Many local authorities only have small environmental
health departments. While environmental health officers (EHOs)
are trained to a high academic standard, many holding MSc, their
training does not adequately prepare them for dealing with industry.
Their study includes a year of "practical training"this
tends to be with a local authority rather than a placement with
a food business. This is one of the main reasons why upon qualification
EHOs lack a practical understanding of how modern food businesses
implement best food safety practice.
6.6 Once qualified, EHOs are not able to devote
their full time and attention to food law enforcement. With many
calls on their time, few EHOs receive adequate on the job training
in the latest food safety techniques. Without adequate training
many are unable to competently advise the wide range of food businesses
under their supervision on the best way to implement the latest
food safety techniques. Without better trained and more focused
EHOs, the Agency's efforts to restore public confidence in the
food we eat will be significantly diminished. We would like to
see amendments to the draft Bill to enable the agency to address
6.7 In addition, we are disappointed that the
draft bill does nothing to address the disproportionate burden
of enforcement which falls on some local authorities. This burden
is one of the reasons why the Home Authority concept has not been
as successful in practice as had been hoped. The creation of a
national agency provides an opportunity for change. We would
like to see amendments made to the draft Bill transferring to
the Agency the Home Authority function for large, multi-site organisations,
such as the country's leading supermarkets and food processing
businesses. Such an innovation would greatly assist local authority
enforcement departments and would simplify Sainsbury's own dealings
with the 300 local authorities we currently work with to ensure
the practical implementation of food law.
7. LEVY ON
Clause 23 and the consultation document's "proposed
scheme for recovering food safety costs from the food industry"
7.1 Sainsbury's, along with other food businesses;
the Institute of Trading Standards; the Local Government Association;
the Consumers' Association; the Commons Agriculture Select Committee;
and the Government's Better Regulation Task Force oppose the Government's
desire to make parts of the food industry pay for the setting
up and running of the Food Standards Agency. As Peter Luff MP,
Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture,
has said, "To make the industry pay would go against all
the evidence. . . . It would end up meaning the consumer paid,
and that would be a tax falling unfairly on the poor, because
they spend more of their budget on food."
7.2 Consumer bodies are also concerned that
making the food industry pay would amount to sponsorship of the
Agency. This would make a mockery of the Government's commitment
to establishing a truly independent Agency.
7.3 As the Agency is to be set up by statute
as a public body, it should be funded from the public purse. This
has long been deemed the most appropriate manner by which to fund
public bodies. We can see no reason to alter this principle. The
Health and Safety Executivewhich is seen as an appropriate
model for the agency to followis publicly funded. This
is also true of the Food and Drug Administration in the USA.
7.4 It is disingenuous of the Government to
present the proposed levy as a way in which food retailers can
contribute to ensuring food safety. Sainsbury's is responsible
for its own operating costs and complying with and exceeding existing
legal obligations to provide safe food is core to our business.
We ensure the safety of the food we sell by investing in quality
assurance systems from plough to plate.
7.5 Our suppliers work to standards set out
in our pioneering farm assurance schemes; our 140 strong Technical
Division carry out regular supplier and processor visits; our
800 lorries provide a safe environment which guarantees chilled,
frozen and ambient product arrives safely in store. Once in store,
refrigerated and chill cabinets, and the high standard to training
for all staff in correct food handling means that our customers
can be sure that the food they buy is safe. We invest in educating
our customers in how to prepare food safely by publishing a wide
range of leaflets dealing with food safety issues. Our customer
services department, which takes over 8,000 calls each week, is
on hand to advise our nine million customers on the safest way
to store and cook food. In addition to all this, we contribute
to the cost of food law enforcement through corporation tax and
local business rates.
7.6 At no point do either clause 23 or the levy
document state an intention by the Government to maintain its
existing level of expenditure on food safety. This committee
should try to obtain a commitment from ministers to this effect.
While discussing this omission with officials, we have been given
the impression that the Government does not know how much public
money is spent on ensuring food safety. Nor does it have any method
of calculating how effectively this public money is spent. The
Government should require the agencyas one of its first
actsto establish the current cost food safety enforcement
and how effectively this public money is being spent. This analysis
should be completed before the Government asks private businesses
for any additional funds.
7.7 As drafted the Bill imposes the levy solely
on some food retailers. It is both illogical and unfair to exempt
other parts of the food production chainfarmers, manufacturers,
processors, and distributorsall play an important part
in providing the public with safe food. The agency has a responsibility
for food safety from plough to plate. It is only equitable that
the whole food chain should contribute to its costs.
7.8 Nor does the proposed levy cover all registered
or licensed food premises. For example there is no mention of
places providing institutional meals such as schools, hospitals,
prisons and residential homes. Such premises should be included
in the scope of the levy.
7.9 If the scope of the levy was broadened as
suggested then the Government would be in a position to reduce
the proposed £90 per annum charge. This would ensure that
it had even less impact than currently expected on small businesses.
8 This duty is set out in clause 12 of the draft Bill. Back
This duty is set out in the Agency's fourth guiding principle. Back