Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


Submitted by the Welsh Food Alliance

  As an independent public health, public interest organisation, we warmly welcome the Governments proposals for an independent consumer-driven agency that has public health at the heart of its programme. This is in line with other health documents coming from government. Further comments will be made following our FSA public consultation being held in Newport, on 20 March 1999. In supporting the proposed function and structure of a Food Standards Agency (FSA) we very much welcome:

    —  opportunities presented by the Government's commitment to devolved governance to the English regions, spawning equivalent structures to the Welsh FSA Commission, and regional English counterparts to the Welsh Food Alliance;

    —  further detailed consultation concerning the interface between the FSA, the Welsh Health Division of the Assembly, and public health/public interest groups in Wales;

    —  a UK Agency with national representation, and where consumer and public interest representation is in the majority at territorial and UK levels;

    —  separate territorial Commissions being established to advise upon issues of particular significance to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the UK Agency advising devolved forms of governance in the constituent parts of the UK;

    —  involving the consumer, with a clearly open structure, that is responsive to constitutional changes, yet operating directly in response to the UK Parliament, with a transparent transnational UK Council of Ministers;

    —  food safety being dealt within the broader context of public health, nutrition, including the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, and the national curriculum;

    —  the establishment of a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) with aims and structure based upon the best available characteristics of all models;

    —  its fundamental aim of re-establishing public confidence in UK mechanisms for handling food problems within a three year time span;

    —  action to empower consumers that could inspire and facilitate the cultural transformation required to achieve public confidence in the food chain, and best value in health promotion;

    —  that such measures could help overcome the loss of public confidence in the government's public health role, and help reduce societal health inequalities.

  This will contribute to improvement of health which requires urgent attention given the scale of existing problems, as outlined in "Better Health—Better Wales".


  1. European Food and Nutrition Policy, and Food Law: Welsh consumers can be assisted in this task by providing them with a capacity to independently monitor, evaluate, and lobby for change at the European level. Part of the FSA levy should be used for this purpose. For example, the 1997 Green Paper on the "General Principles of Food Law in the European Union", concerns food law. It is essential that this is based upon future food policy, but it does not do so. A legal system cannot be developed if one is unsure about the objectives. The current narrow focus has the practical effect of excluding social, ecological, human resource, vocational training, schools curricula and other matters, and does not allow joined up solutions to joined up problems.

  2. Food Industry European Human Resource Strategy: Ensuring that the risk assessment HACCP system works correctly is a key public health issue, that may have equal significance to establishing a UK FSA. This is because it addresses the cause of problems, rather than inspecting them after the event. We emphasise that the special character of the food sector and consequent very high health and safety requirements necessitate special measures and requirements regarding the training of those who are responsible for the production and sale of foodstuffs. Such essential preventative health and safety measures will also contribute to the reassurance of consumers regarding food safety, and food hygiene.

  3. EU standards for regulatory, and industry supervisory/manager food hygiene training: A common EU standards for regulatory, and industry supervisory and manager food hygiene training does not exist, yet this is essential for the completion of the single market, public health, and consumer protection. With current proposals for EU enlargement, the argument for an EU standard for food hygiene training, testing and certification, as is the case in the USA, becomes overwhelming. This is blocked by the European Commission's insistence on subsidiarity whilst failing to recognise this as an essential precondition for completion of the single market. MAFF objections that a prescriptive approach would be impractical, contrasts with the World Health Organisation's (1992) recommendations that clearly underlines the importance of training for the effective operation of HACCP systems as recommended by CODEX. It is an official position that many have some difficulty in understanding. Attempts to assure quality through ISO 9000, are insufficient. If requested we are able to provide sample US Food and Drug Administration manuals for both industry and regulatory HACCPS training programmes. We would expect the FSA to have an active role in these matters. At Appendix 1 we list questions yet to be answered by the European Commission.

  4. The Welsh Assembly information services: Unfortunately, the Assembly, as legislator, will be dependent upon the executive for its information services. Some of our recommendations our proposals will have great relevance both now and in the future, and may help redress this imbalance, and contribute to clarifying the relationship between the FSA, and the Health Department in Wales. It is regretted that the existing UK National Food Survey is quite misleading in that it poorly represents the experiences of low income groups, and does not include the steadily increasing proportion of food eaten outside the home. Nor does it provide evidence that could measure change required at a local level, in terms of the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. In Wales, we need to establish base line data on food consumption patterns, so that we can measure the effectiveness of strategies to change behaviour in specified target populations.

  5. The Welsh Assembly—Public Pressure: The pressure of public opinion and public interest bodies often appears to be the strongest driving force to guarantee that all necessary measures to protect public health are effectively taken. The new Assembly will have an important role in enabling citizens of Wales to improve food policies and practices, that enhance public health, improve the working and the living environment. This role can best be achieved by ensuring that resources are available to support Welsh based research, and community based initiatives which are able to identify and respond to particular consumer concerns. This research will need to focus upon the wider determinants of health, including the inter play of factors between income, access, transport price, availability, skills, and confidence. This is required to stimulate consumer involvement, educate policy makers, and trigger change in relevant policies. This capacity to develop relevant policies can best be achieved through the management and control of resources, in partnership with other Welsh institutions, combined with appropriate relations with similar bodies, in other parts of the UK. Government's £20 million Welsh Healthy Living Centre programme will be able to support many new ideas and food policies, and the Welsh Assembly should use its powers to specify the proportion of Lottery funds to be ear marked for this purpose, and ensure the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation arrangements in empowering poor consumers.

  6. FSA Levy: The FSA £90 levy is obviously regressive, and will adversely affect small rural and valley food shops, and increase food costs for those experiencing food poverty. We obviously need a simple administrative mechanism to redress this. One possible solution is that food retail premises below 12,000 square feet should only pay the flat rate tax every other year, with a proportionate increase for larger operations. However, we need a generic mechanism that could equally apply to a diversity of catering operations. A case can be made to exempt local charitable non profit distributing organisations established for community benefit. The current position means that community food initiatives, local voluntary food co-operatives, will pay a levy whereas Womens Institute catering activity will be exempt. We propose that the Welsh Assembly should revise the Food Premises (Registration) Regulations 1991 so these activities, and bona fide local consumer and producer markets are exempt as part of government's social exclusion policy, in specified areas of deprivation.

  7. Food law enforcement: In terms of FSA draft legislation—section 14—Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are essential for consistent food safety enforcement. We see the need to ring fence money available for this purpose. This is important with small unitary authorities, who may have non food specialists heading a generic local authority department. As in Birmingham, specialist EHO resources need to be directed at food law enforcement. This is supported by a recent Audit Commission advice on performance indicators.

  8. FSA Levy expenditure principles: One key principle concerns prevention, including consumer and public interest research and representation. They should be applied to the expenditure of FSA levy income in dealing with basic problems before they arise. For example, we need effective action by schools and industry. Much of the £1.5 million to be collected in Wales would be more sustainable, and effectively spent on education and training. Therefore careful consideration will need to be given, to explicitly building principles into the FSA primary legislation, about how this money can be spent strategically from consumer and public health perspectives. Currently, the UK Minister refers to the use of levy expenditure in terms of "environmental services", but in our view this narrow definition needs extending to support a more joined up approach to government, that explicitly includes public health. This could then enable a more strategic approach in the application of secondary legislation within the UK.

  9. UK National Curriculum: Low priority is given to teaching food skills within the UK National Curriculum. For example, inadequate time is available in schools for this purpose, and this is reflected in poor school practices. This has serious implications for health and future eating patterns. The Welsh Assembly, will clearly have the power to make food and nutrition skills a compulsory part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 3, so that young people can prepare good safe food. Primary legislation could provide a coherent framework for this to happen.

  10. Vocational Training: Since more people are eating out, vocational training is of supreme importance to industry employees, especially managers and supervisors, where food hygiene certification has declined in recent years. (See the authors published evidence in the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee Report on Food Safety, April 1998). Essential control measures can only record breaches of the law. In many cases these transgressions can be found in insufficient, or non-existent workforce training and qualifications. We agree with the UK Food Minister that training is a key aspect of public health policy. However this is not reflected in any changes proposed by government. A strategic fault line in drafting the FSA legislation concerns a failure by officials to understand and act upon the significance of industry human resources, for example, in avoiding food borne illness. The proposed legislation fails to reflect this, and does not take responsibility for the Health Departments neglected role in terms of food hygiene training, or the NVQ occupational standards setting role of DfEE—that is essentially driven by trade interests. This is significant, not only because of (2) and (3) above, but because of the worrying decline in the level and quality of training, for example, in the catering sector, arising from price competition and cost pressures, and management cost cutting. If necessary the FSA levy should be increased, with this being injected back into industry through Further Education Funding Councils, via Celtic block grants, and English RDAs. But this must be part of government's equity and life long learning strategy, given current industry trends that deskill labour, the high numbers of 16 to 24-year-old employees, and a large proportion of marginal female workers.

  11. UK Food hygiene training standards: Important changes are required in the way in which food hygiene training is designed, delivered and assessed through our NVQ system. Should we require all publicly funded food hygiene training—delivered within NVQ programmes—to be externally verified, and not internally by employers, as is currently the case. Occupational standards and training are currently a DfEE responsibility. It is recommended that Welsh funding mechanisms may be able to address this issue. In Wales we propose that every person leaving school should be trained and certificated to a basic six hour level of food hygiene.

  12. Legislative Process: Agreement will be sought for the FSA legislation from devolved government in Scotland, N Ireland, and Wales. It is suggested that in each Assembly/Parliament within the UK should establish a select committee to review this legislation, and in doing so they should identify key questions in actively seeking evidence from the public, consumer and voluntary organisations. These arrangements will be essential to ensure that consumer and public health representations are properly heard, and acted upon. In Wales we believe that this will allow possibilities for distinctive policies, but this will also require effective lobbying, and alliances, at the European Level, including worker, consumer, and environmental interests.


  These recommendations will enable distinctive Welsh policies to emerge, that will contribute to consumer protection, community development, and improved public health, particularly in respect of food and nutrition, occupational health, food safety, and food hygiene within a EU and UK strategy, and policy framework.


    (i)  Food is clearly a major determinant of good health. We are all consumers, not by choice but need. We all eat food, and therefore improved consumer democracy and public policy would potentially benefit everyone in Wales. Our detailed comments flow from this premise.

    (ii)  Food spans many aspects of government: education, employment, health, social security, heritage, tourism, consumer, trade, transport, environment, public health, and even international development.

    (iii)  In all the detailed comments and planning for the Assembly and its structure, food policy and food poverty receive scant attention. Regrettably, food is clustered with producer interests, rather than public health.

The Agency and Wales

    (iv)  The Food Standards Agency (FSA) could be a reality by September 2000. It will be a formidable quango responsible for developing, implementing and synchronising UK wide food policy and standards. It will drive much secondary legislation. If the Assembly is to be an active participant it will need to develop a role in communicating and consulting on a wider remit than FSA policy and proposed structures, and involve the public in this process. The voluntary sector will have an important role in this process.

    (v)  The Agency would act as the focus for the development of food policy, but would not necessarily undertake all such policy development and implementation. It will need to develop an effective presence in Wales to support local authority surveillance, and the food law enforcement process. Additional staff will be required at different levels to achieve this objective.

    (vi)  The Chief Medical Officer for Health in Wales should have a greater profile, with a good deal of emphasis on monitoring and annually reporting, with recommendations on the nutritional needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

    (vii)  Will the Assembly have a distinctive view? FSA is to be part funded by a licence fee. How will this impact upon small rural and valley food outlets? How will it listen to and support Welsh consumers, respond to equality priorities, address food hygiene and national curricula issues, and the McDonaldisation of employment and training?

    (viii)  The James report correctly states "international experience demonstrates that there is a need for instituting substantial structural and cultural change in government before public opinion begins to shift". In our view this equally applies at local, regional, national, and UK levels. This will be a critical pre-condition for regaining public confidence. All tiers of UK governance have an important role in facilitating the Agency's work.

    (ix)  From consumer participation and representation perspectives it will clearly be unsatisfactory if "top down" UK methods, are replaced by officialdom at national, regional and local levels.

    (x)  A centrally co-ordinated approach will be important in ensuring that people in Wales fully benefit from exposure to a range of consumer activities, and culturally different practices from other parts of the UK.

    (xi)  We assume that pan UK co-ordination will presumably take place through a Council of Ministers. It will be important in developing and maintaining consumer confidence that such arrangements are transparent.

    (xii)  Secrecy is an important form of regulation. If the Assembly has a Freedom of Information policy, how far will this extend into our secretive UK and EU executive. Will it be able to act with speed to promote public health? Can this be supported by active consumer and public interest groups?

    (xiii)  The UK Food Survey inadequately represents the experiences of low income groups. To address health inequalities we need to establish base line data on food consumption patterns, so that we can measure the effectiveness of Welsh strategies.

Health Promotion

    (xiv)  Affordability and accessibility of food are key consumer issues. They clearly require local investigation if official health targets are to be achieved. Success also requires that people are empowered and actively involved in changing deep seated attitudes related to the value of food and improved health (see recommendation 3).

    (xv)  Official health promotion initiatives are frequently set up by medically dominant health professional. This approach often undermines their success because they are detached from the experiences of people within the wider community. Assembly policy should be sustainable and invest in people; and should not parachute solutions, but involve communities. Develop open, informed and integrated approaches; and ensure policies really work for the poorest neighbourhoods (see recommendation 3).

    (xvi)   If the Assembly is to rely upon existing officials where will the new thinking come from to inspire and facilitate the cultural transformation required to achieve public confidence in the food chain, and best value in health promotion?

    (xvii)  Welsh Ministers strongly support community development. Will future health promotion arrangements understand the process and practicalities involved? Why have officials to be persuaded, when their Scottish counterparts champion this process with great success?

    (xviii)  The Welsh NHS has no experience of community development. How will food and nutrition, and public participation be integrated into the planning and evaluation of Health Improvement Programmes, and yet be community driven is an important issue that must be resolved, and we meet with Welsh Office officials shortly to consider this issue.

    (xiv)  Different activities should be linked, for example, a community garden with a cafe; an organic allotment to a local pre school playgroup or a school; food co-operatives to low income, housing and community groups; school initiatives with local retailers. We should not see the familiar fragmented medically driven approach to health promotion if we are to achieve best results.

    (xv)  Government's £20 million Welsh Healthy Living Centre programme will be able to support many new ideas and food policies in Wales, and the Welsh Assembly should specify the proportion of Lottery funds to be earmarked for this purpose.

    (xvi)  The Welsh Assembly should radically change our public health strategy framework so that community development is placed at the heart of public health policy and strategy, with this being supported by the Wales NHS research and development budget.

    (xvii)  These issues will need to be closely monitored by the Assembly to ensure best value, and this will require public participation. This should be undertaken by select committee inquiries with evidence based approaches related to local knowledge and experience.

Public interest representation

    (xviii)  The potential for realising consumer involvement at all stages of the decision-making process is a critical feature of rebuilding consumer confidence in the food industry. The National Consumer Council are to be congratulated for advocating this view.

    (xix)  Government, whether at local, regional, national, or supra-national levels has an important part to play in this process. Existing public information and education arrangements are inadequate means of coping with the public's crisis of confidence in government to handle food issues.

    (xx)  The James report accurately analyses that "there is a need to explore further . . . public involvement in food policy which is currently very `top down'". Apart from Freedom of Information legislation, this is a major means for restoring lost public confidence in Governments ability to handle food problems.

    (xxi)  James states there may well be extensive networks of people involved in food initiatives who could be involved in a dialogue with the proposed Agency on food issues. No reference is made to the citizens role as "worker" and "manager" in the industry. Active citizenship requires a combination of both roles.

    (xxii)  From a consumer perspective public involvement should not be limited to feeding concerns and ideas to the Agency, since this may not realise the full potential of consumer involvement. Consumers require structures and organisations to do this.

    (xxiii)  If confidence building measures are to be achieved consumers must not be treated as an adjunct to the Agency. Consumer and public interest groups will need to develop their own support networks. In part this will require indirect public support. Tax relief should be available to bona fide non charitable public interest food and health organisations.

    (xxiv)  The James report calls for "adequate and innovative mechanisms for consumer and public interest" (at page 31). In this context, it will be necessary to support the capacity of consumers and voluntary organisations in Wales (and elsewhere) to:

    —  influence policy, and shape legislation;

    —  take a shared responsibility for public information and education; and

    —  to utilise community and co-operative development models to promote good food and nutrition initiatives for low income groups, as in urban and rural areas of Scotland.

    (xxv)  The Welsh Food Alliance have produced a 10 year action plan that will focus upon inequalities in access in terms of affordability and availability; the effects of declining standards of living upon children, the food habits of the long-term unemployed, and low income families; the elderly, especially those living alone; the long-term disabled; the absence of work whether paid, or otherwise, in terms of community cohesion, as an impediment to improved diet; the role of schools in equipping young people to eat healthier food; and diet and nutrition in residential homes. We are shortly meeting with Welsh Office Health Officials and hope for a positive outcome. David Smith acts as an advisor to the European Food Committee of the International Union of Food Workers. Part of this paper is drawn from briefing material prepared for an EU Food Policy seminar later this year. The evidence complements previous evidence submitted by the author, and published in a UK Agriculture Select Committee's Fourth Report on Food Safety Volume II, Appendix 84, April 1998.

March 1999



1. Would they agree that:

    (a)  the broader strategic issues of training and development are a key aspect of public health policy, given the critical lag between general food regulation, and a rapidly expanding dynamic trade in foodstuffs;

    (b)  from a public health and consumer confidence perspective, the absence of adequate EU training standards obstructs the completion of inter state trade in foodstuffs;

    (c)  the above will have increased prominence in the context of EU enlargement in central and eastern Europe;

    (d)  an EU Standard of training is a practical means of ensuring fair and safe food trade, given the increasing emphasis placed upon HACCPS globally;

    (f)  securing an effective regulatory framework for training is a critical test for restoring consumer confidence, which may then allow simplification and rationalisation of Community foodstuff legislation;

    (e)  the significance of regulating, monitoring and evaluating training is that it is one of the few practical measures available to government to ensure industry compliance with HACCPs principles and applications;

    (g)  food hygiene training, certification and validation should include a managers ability to effectively control and cascade training throughout the operation;

    (h)  standardisation of training, certification and validation should equally applies to those employed to provide official public health inspection and control services in all member states;

    (i)  that there is an increasing propensity for advanced industrialised nations to import foodstuffs from less developed countries.

    (j)  public health standards in each EU state will increasingly depend upon private sector HACCPS, external to the EU, with the possibility of (i) less rigorous public inspection, and control, and (ii) much less developed national publicly financed education and training systems supportive of public health policies;

    (k)  only through a coherent approach to establishing EU standards will it be possible to assure consumers in the enlarged European Market, of the integrity of internal and external market standards for foodstuffs, and the consistent achievement of public health rules at the point of production;

    (l)  there appears to be little evidence that industry HACCP systems are in place?

  2a. Although the Commission emphasises the benefits of non prescriptive approaches to training, has consideration been given to the prescriptive position taken by the World Health Organisation (1992). (b) In what sense has this been taken into account in the EU's policy approach?

  3. If there is widespread agreement that HACCPS is central to food safety why does the USA, the originator of HACCPS, have in certain respects a prescriptive approach to training in its application of: (a) industry and (b) regulatory HACCPS, whilst the EU does not?

  4. In terms of HACCPS principles and applications, what significance is given to the full commitment and involvement of the work force as an essential element for effective industry implementation of HACCPS?

  5. Apart from the ambiguity of draft Article 6 (5)* in Commission Working Document (Proposed General Food Directive VI/8765/96 rev. 2) does the Commission agree that the current wording is insufficiently supportive of any public health ambition to make industry HACCPS principles and applications consistent and effective within the completion of the single market? *see later.

  6. What consideration has been given to establishing European standards of training in the context of Community enlargement?

  7. Given the extent to which young people, females, and part time workers are employed in a diverse food industry, and the current negative features of different labour markets in terms of equity strategy and life long learning, would the Commission welcome an urgent EU study on these issues?

  8. Apart from effective official control systems, would the Commission agree that the main guardian of consumer confidence in the food chain is often workers within particular sectors of industry who are aware of food safety and food hygiene problems and opportunities for improvement?

  9. That there is often an interrelationship with (8) above, and occupational health and safety in the work place?

  10. Therefore what co-operation is required between workers, regulators and consumer interests in order to have confidence in the industry?

  11. Given the importance of reporting practices which are detrimental to food safety and food hygiene can be easily reported by workers, what procedures should be put in place for this to occur, for example, establishing hotlines?

  12. Would the Commission agree that:


  (i)  Increasing numbers of food companies are inserting "confidentiality clauses" in contracts which forbid food workers from speaking to people outside the company on public health matters of concern to them?

  (ii)  If this is correct what basic human rights does this infringe?

    (b)  When such confidentiality clauses relate to health and safety, food hygiene and food safety should they be illegal?

    (c)  When workers faced with situations as at (a) should they receive special legal protection against dismissal, any other form of disciplinary action, or intimidation?

  13. So that practices which are detrimental to food safety and food hygiene can be easily reported by workers, what procedures should be established for this purpose, for example, establishing hotlines?

*Article 6(5)

  The owner or manager of the establishment shall apply or organise a continuous training programme for staff adapted to the production system and enabling them to comply with the particular conditions of hygienic production, except for staff who already have an appropriate qualification. The competent authority responsible for the establishment shall be associated with the design and implementation of this programme or, when an existing programme is involved, with its implementation.

March 1999

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