Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


Submitted by the UK Association of Frozen Food Producers

  The UKAFFP is the representative organisation for the manufacturers of frozen foods. The products of its members cover all sectors of the food industry, including: meat, fish, vegetables, potatoes, bakery products, ready meals, deserts and snacks.

  The Association represents one of the largest sectors of the food industry with a turnover at consumer values of over £5 billion per annum.

  As an all sector industry Association, the UKAFFP takes a close interest in general food regulation and is especially concerned, not only that the safety of its products should be assured, but that consumers should be able to take such assurance for granted.

  In support of this general objective, the advent of the Food Standards Agency is welcomed and it is against the background of this objective that we have tried to judge the Bill.

  Our detailed comments follow the numerical references and headings used in the draft Bill.


Clause 2: Appointment of members etc.

  2. We welcome recognition of the need for "a variety of skills and experience" among the members of the Agency. We also note the reference to "experience in matters relating to food safety or other interests of consumers in relation to food". Whilst we understand that the primary purpose of the Agency is "to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food", it should be stressed that such interests include the existence of an efficient and effective food industry devoted to the provision of safe, palatable, nutritious and economical foods; and that expertise among members of the Agency in the production and delivery of such foods is important in relation to those interests.

Clause 4: Advisory Committees for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

  1. It is evidently necessary to avoid differing requirements in respect of food safety arising in the different parts of the UK. We question whether it is a matter of statutory necessity to appoint advisory committees for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Perhaps it should be worded that: "there may be established . . ." If it transpires that these simply duplicate the discussion which otherwise takes place within the devolved authorities or the Agency itself, they would become unnecessary.

Clause 6: Other Advisory Committees

  We are concerned about the responsibility for the existence and constitution of a number of important government advisory committees (e.g., the FAC, the ACMSF and the ACMFP) moving to the Agency which would be enabled to disband or reshape them at will.

Clause 8: Annual and other reports

  We made comment on the White Paper and would repeat that formal annual reporting is inadequate; and that Parliament should have the right to scrutinise the Agency's plans and performance on an ongoing basis. This applies particularly to the need for scrutiny of the Agency's activities under the functional headings laid out in Clauses 9 and 10 (developing food policy and providing information to the public). In particular, the Secretary of State must be ultimately accountable for food safety and consumer policy.


Clause 9: Development of food policy and provision of advice, etc., to public authorities

  The Bill stipulates the Agency function of developing policies and providing advice, but the Notes state that this function will extend to a representational role "in relevant EU and other international fora". Such representation goes well beyond the development of policies and the provision of advice. Dealings under Treaty obligations with International bodies must in principle remain a function of a Department of State with responsibility to Parliament. The ability of the Agency to engage in negotiations in such dealings must be under clear and strict instructions.

Clause 10: Provision of advice, information and assistance to other persons

  "Ensuring that members of the public are kept adequately informed . . . in respect of matters which . . . affect their capacity to make informed decisions about food" is evidently a key function of the Agency. It is implicit that adequacy of information requires it to be objective and meaningful. The Notes, which indicate in detail the means of giving such information, should include an obligation to ensure that any such information is both objective and meaningful.

Clause 11: Publication by the Agency of information and advice

  1. We welcome the ability of the Agency to publish any advice it gives (subject to strict observance of confidentiality where necessary—see below), but, if, as explained in the Notes, Ministers must give their reasons when not accepting such advice, it is necessary, by the token of fairness of debate, that the Agency should give its reasons for giving such advice in the first place.

  2b. The "public interest" waiver for the publication of confidential information should not be entirely at the discretion of the Agency. There should be a stronger condition for it to be "demonstrably in the public interest to do so".

Clause 12: Acquisition and review of information

  We are concerned about the meaning of the references to "diseases" and "the state of the environment".

Clause 13: Powers to carry out observations

  7 and 8. We are concerned about the facility granted to the Agency to "publish in such manner as it considers appropriate any information obtained from observations carried out". We would stress the importance for the Agency to take account of the need for any information it publishes to be treated impartially and in context.

  It must also recognise that the responsibility for the treatment of any such information, once outside its hands and into those of the news media. is no longer its own and recent experience shows how such information can be mistreated and misconstrued.

  8. We would make the same comment here as on Clause 11(2)(b).

Clause 14: Monitoring of enforcement action

  1. Positive rather than negative measures should be the indicators of performance: i.e., measures of compliance rather than actions against non-compliance.

  4b. We are very concerned that the Agency "may publish [any] information . . . if it appears to the Agency to be in the public interest to do so". There should be an obligation on the Agency to balance any information of a speculative or less than definitive nature which it chooses to publish, by allowing equal access to comment from any party whose reputation or commercial interest may be at stake.

Clause 15: Monitoring of enforcement action: specific powers

  5b. We stress the need for confidentiality safeguards and the protection of individual rights.


Clause 18: Statement of general objectives and practices

  We very much welcome the requirement for the Agency to publish a statement of objectives and general practices (18(1)) and for such a statement to receive the approval of the appropriate authorities. It should also be open for public consultation (18(4)). We are pleased to see that the Bill reflects a point made in our White Paper submission—of the need to make public the reasons for Agency decisions. We would also stress the need to communicate with the public about risk assessment (18(a)(c)).

  The Agency should also be accountable for the achievement of its objectives and compliance with its practices.

Clause 19: Consideration of objectives, risks, costs, benefits, etc.

  It is to be welcomed that the Agency will take into account the "nature and magnitude of any risks to public health" in relation to its decisions, but the derogation from this obligation "to the extent that it is . . . impracticable" (19(3)(a)) seems completely unnecessary. Risk management in public health issues is of supreme importance and the matter of principle should not be negotiable. Obviously, the way in which risk will be taken into account will depend on the available knowledge, but a lesser than full degree of knowledge does not grant indemnity from the need to take risk into account in so far as it is known. On the contrary, the Agency should be given a clear responsibility to enhance the knowledge, management and communication of risk. Anything less will not contribute to the improvement of consumer confidence in food safety.

Clause 20: Directions relating to the implementation of international obligations

  We are very concerned about the reference to "implementation [by the Agency] of any obligations of the UK under the Community Treaties or any International Agreements". Is it really the intention that the Agency should normally act without Ministerial direction in these matters?

  Implementation (of, e.g., EC Directives) frequently carries with it an element of interpretation and possibly negotiation. These are matters of Ministerial and ultimately Parliamentary responsibility (see comments on Clause 9 above).

Clause 23: Levy on food premises (and Consultation Paper on Levy Scheme)

  We retain our conviction that, in principle, the Agency should be financed from public funds. Our submission on the White Paper said: "the argument for industry funding has been made on the grounds that the industry should pay the cost of meeting the needs of the consumer for safe, high quality food. But, the industry already pays the costs of meeting these requirements. It is not reasonable that they should also pay for the formulation of the Regulations themselves or for their enforcement. The costs of control and enforcement of regulatory provisions have always been and should remain a matter for public funding". Accordingly, we do not agree with this Clause in the Bill.

  However, given its inclusion and the general provision for levy funding, we would make the following points:

    —  The provision for subscription to the costs of enforcement authorities (23)(2)(c) is questionable in principle. It also seems a dangerous precedent to offer such an open ended commitment with no specification as to the type of work or its cost, any level of which might be included in subsequent secondary legislation.

    —  There is no time limit specified within which secondary regulations for levy should be reviewed (23(3)(a)). The requirement in the separate levy proposals suggests an initial period of three years. The primary legislation should specify this maximum initial period and subsequent periods for review at intervals not longer than three years.

March 1999

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