Submitted by Tesco
Tesco is the largest retailer in the United
Kingdom, with over 600 stores. We also have stores in the Republic
of Ireland, Eastern Europe and Thailand. We see over 40,000 food
products, approximately half of which are branded, and half are
our own brand. Typically, we introduce about 2,000 own label new
products each year. As well as our Value lines, which offer our
customers, good, basic foods at the lowest possible prices, we
provide the Tesco Healthy Eating Rangeof naturally health
foods, and a range of organic products to maximise choice for
Food safety and standards are of paramount importance
to our business. Tesco welcomes any measures which would reinforce
consumer confidence in the safety of food. We support any moves
to provide and strengthen the current system.
We are pleased to offer support in principle
to the draft Bill. The creation of a Food Standards Agency is
a proposal we have supported, ever since the discussions which
led to the James Report. Indeed, we have always said that the
sooner it was established, the better. However, there are points
of detail in the draft Bill which we would seek to change. Our
principle concerns are set out below. We will be happy to submit
further points in the light of the committee's discussions.
As proposed in the draft Bill, specific provision
is made for members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
but none from the food industry itself or from any section of
it. Indeed, clause 2 goes so far as to state that anyone with
an interest in the food industry might be disqualified from being
a member of the Agency. We believe that it is important that a
Food Standards Agency maintains the proper degree of independence,
but that its operation must not be hampered by any lack of knowledge
or experience on the part of those forming its controlling body.
It is therefore extremely important that expertise is not excluded
simply on the grounds of employment within a food business.
The Bill as currently drafted provides not only
for Agency members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but
also for regional advisory committees for those areas (and, potentially,
for regions of England as well) and for regional executive offices.
This appears to be an extremely top-heavy and expensive structure
to deal with an issue which affects all UK citizens equally. Whilst
we appreciate that devolution necessitates reporting to and through
the devolved bodies, it seems unnecessary to create quite such
a complex infrastructure for the Agency.
We believe that one of the Agency's chief aims
should be to improve food law enforcement in the UK and promote
best practice. There are a number of ways in which this can be
achieved which would result in improved efficiency and effectiveness.
The White Paper made reference to the Home Authority Principle
and proposed to make it mandatory. We support the objectives of
the Principle. Consistent and co-ordinated enforcement concentrated
on areas of greatest risk brings the greatest benefit to citizens.
More work is needed to build on the current system.
Tesco has already demonstrated with its own
Home Authority, that by applying a "systems health check"
and selective audits to a business rather than relying solely
on old-fashioned inspection methods, considerable resource savings
would be achieved which could then be applied where they are most
needed. For example, it has been stated that nearly half of all
food poisoning outbreaks are associated with catering businesses,
whereas retail food businesses account for only around 6 per cent.
Furthermore, most of the food incidents causing major public concern
have arisen at small manufacturers. Yet retailers remain the focus
of enforcement activity despite presenting a much smaller riskand
those retailers who adopt a responsible, partnership approach
with enforcement agencies would present only a fraction of that.
We look for assurances that the Agency will
immediately start work on the creation of an improved Home Authority
enforcement regime. We know that LACOTS is also looking at possible
ways to improve enforcement along these lines, so it is important
that the Agency works closely with local government to co-ordinate
this activity. It needs to be clear in the bill that efficiency
and effectiveness of enforcement are an Agency priority.
It is not clear from the draft bill how much
responsibility the Agency is intended to take for the provision
of nutritional and dietary advice. In our opinion, the Agency
should be responsible only for those aspects of diet and nutrition
which relate directly to food labelling. The collection of statistics
and publication of reports and advice on the nation's diet and
nutritional requirements should remain the responsibility of the
Department of Health because this is an essential part of their
work on the health of the nation. If these functions were to be
allocated to the Agency, they would inevitably dilute its effectiveness
in ensuring food safety. We wish to see an Agency with its focus
on food standards and safety and it should not be deflected from
this by the need to carry out dietary research within already
It seems to us that the Bill does not clearly
tackle question of cost effectiveness of the Agency. On the one
hand, clause 18 requires a statement of objectives and clause
19 requires it to take costs and benefits into account when exercising
its powers but, on the other, it is envisaged that it will have
a complex and costly infrastructure with regional executive offices
and advisory committees. It is for Parliament to ensure the cost
effectiveness of the Agency itself and to look at the overall
expense and benefits to the public at large.
Indeed, it is the whole UK citizenry which will
benefit from the creation of the Agency. We all have a stake in
food safety and standards and any benefit it brings will accrue
to all of us.
We are, therefore, firmly of the opinion that:
(a) the Agency must be cost-effective by
bringing efficiencies into its own structure and into food law
enforcement throughout the UK;
(b) whatever costs which remain to be found
after those efficiencies are realised should be met from the public
purse because it is the whole of the public which will benefit.
If the potential efficiencies described above
were realised, we believe that most, if not all of the extra costs
of the Agency would be met.
Drawing funds solely from all or part of the
food industry by way of levy will inevitably compromise the Agency's
much needed independence. The Agency must command public confidence;
only such an Agency can deal with the big public issues. Also,
it needs to be appreciated that responsible food businesses already
expend considerable resources on food safety and consumer protection,
in addition to business rate and corporation tax.
We are also concerned that the current proposals
for funding the Agency are too open-ended. The potential for extensive
revisions through secondary legislation is considerable. Such
secondary legislation would at least need to set out the formula
by which such charges were to be calculated.
Much in this draft Bill is to be welcomed. However,
we believe it needs more focus on the problems it seeks to address.
The key elements need to be independence from government, expertise,
efficiency and enforcement effectiveness, whereas the draft Bill
concentrates on structure, resources and powers. It may be that
the "statement of objectives" needs to be drafted into
the Bill itself, thereby giving the Agency clear statutory direction
and a duty to observe and pursue those objectives.