Examination of Witnesses (Questions 470
WEDNESDAY 10 MARCH 1999
ATTENBOROUGH and MS
470. Good afternoon. I would like to welcome
you in front of the Committee. Could I ask you to introduce yourselves
and the organisation that you are representing this afternoon
for the record.
(Mr Attenborough) Good afternoon. Mike Attenborough,
Technical Director, Meat and Livestock Commission.
(Mr Maclean) Good afternoon all. Colin Maclean,
Director General, Meat and Livestock Commission.
(Mr Gill) Ben Gill, President of the National
Farmers' Union of England and Wales.
(Mr Gardiner) Ian Gardiner, Policy Director of
the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales.
(Ms Browning) Helen Browning, Chairman of the
Chairman: Thank you
very much. You will know the people to my right from the Food
Standards Group and they have been working on this for many years
now. I am not sure whether they are witnesses or not, but they
are here to answer any queries on the draft legislation for all
of us. Welcome. I am sure you know quite well that this Committee
is looking in theory just at the legislation as drafted in the
consultation and obviously we are looking at wider issues as well,
although on quite a tight timetable. I do not know how much longer
this is going to go on for your organisations, but for us it is
the end of the month. Howard Stoate?
471. I would like to start by looking at
the powers of the Food Standards Agency and whether they are adequate
for their purpose. I will start with Mr Gill from the National
Farmers' Union. Under clause 13 of the draft Bill, the Agency
will have powers to carry out "observations" on farms,
leaving enforcement activities to local authorities and a range
of MAFF Executive Agencies. Are you satisfied that it is clear
as the Bill is drafted that the FSA will have routine powers that
can extend beyond the farm gate?
(Mr Gill) First of all, we would highlight the
difference between primary producers and the food industry, which
are fundamentally different. You may want to come back to what
farmers are doing at the moment to address the many issues before
it leaves the farm in terms of farm assurance schemes. They are
not quality assurance schemes, they are farm assurance schemes.
They are not addressed to food safety, but they should give the
assurances. We intend for them to be based on UKAS accreditation,
which gives us the recognition and we believe that they are independently
surveyed and we believe that the Food Standards Agency would need
to be aware of them. The fact that we are going to so much trouble
to introduce these schemes voluntarily is a very strong indicator
of the awareness of farmers and the farming community and the
farming industry as a whole that it has a key part to play in
the role of the food chain that meshes in once it leaves the farm
gate. That in itself is a major statement of commitment within
the food industry. We would hope that the Food Standards Agency
would look upon that in a positive tone.
472. What has been your experience of the
effectiveness of the current enforcement operations carried out
on farms by the Pesticides Safety Directorate, the Meat Hygiene
Service and the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency? What do
you think currently have been the effects? I am particularly interested
(Mr Gardiner) A large part of the enforcement
operations which affect farmers would carry on in the state in
which they are at the moment, but they would be subject to the
supervision, monitoring and control of the Food Standards Agency.
I guess any change would then come if the Food Standards Agency
felt there were any deficiencies which were not being remedied.
473. I am asking you if you think there
are any deficiencies.
(Mr Gardiner) Dairy farms have an inspection on
hygiene grounds once every three years or more frequently. That
works properly, although there is a duplication with local authority
inspections of farms there which we hope the Food Standards Agency
could help on. Some farms are also processing premises and retail
premises and will have a slightly different relationship on that
front. Our members do notice differences or patchiness in local
authority inspection of the food system and of them, and one of
the things which we would hope the Food Standards Agency will
do is lead to a uniform standard of inspection across the face
of England and Wales and, of course, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
474. I am particularly interested in your
comment about the patchiness of the enforcement and that is what
I want to concentrate on. Clearly the enforcement works in some
areas and it is not quite so good in others. Do you think the
FSA should have greater responsibility for on-farm enforcement
or do you think the new structure as proposed will improve this
(Mr Gardiner) I believe that it can and I think
that it will. I was at a conference this morning where local government
representatives were speaking just as much as Food Standards Agency
people and I believe there is a lot of goodwill and there is an
acceptance that the leading local authorities need reinforcement.
I would say, on the other hand, that where the patchiness is due
to a lack of resources inside the local government system then
that is going to raise some financial questions which go beyond
the remit of the National Farmers' Union.
475. I want to move on to the regulation
and approval of pesticides. Are you satisfied that the Food Standards
Agency has adequate powers over the regulation and approval of
(Ms Browning) No, I think one of the things that
seems rather incongruous to us is that whereas you have brought
under the FSA many of the statutory bodies that are concerned
with food safety, the Pesticides Agency is not going to be there.
If you are doing that then it would be more coherent to have both
that and the Veterinary Medicine Directorate under the control
of the FSA. I know that is a hot potato at the moment.
476. But you would recommend that that was
(Ms Browning) Yes, we would.
(Mr Gill) We would take a different view to that.
(Mr Maclean) So would we.
(Mr Gill) We believe that the existing arrangements
have delivered a very safe and effective way of policing the introduction
of new pesticides and new medicines into this country, that the
record on residues stands testimony to the way the whole system
works at the moment and, therefore, there is nothing to change
in that. The proposals for the interaction with the Food Standards
Agency are sufficient to show that there is a link in there to
counter any concerns that might arise.
477. I am a little concerned about that
because my understanding is that the number of times that crops
are tested for pesticide residues is, of necessity, small and
I wonder if you really think there is enough testing of pesticide
(Mr Gill) If they were concerned that the levels
showing up in the results then that would require more testing.
I think the consistency of the results and the fact that they
show up repeatedly gives us the assurance that there is sufficient
testing going on to address that issue.
478. Are you satisfied with that, Ms Browning?
(Ms Browning) I do not think the issue here is
one of residues. When you are looking at veterinary products I
think the big issue at the moment is antibiotic resistance in
the human population and I am concerned that this whole debate
is becoming very polarised. I do not like the idea that we are
looking at enforcement. What I feel we need to do is to support
the industry in changing its basic practices, to allow the industry
to make sure that these problems do not arise in the first place
and to reduce the industry's dependence on antibiotics, for example,
in the first place. I think that is the key responsibility here.
If we just slam on more regulations and more enforcement on top
of an industry that is already under enormous pressure then I
think we are going to see enormous problems arising. If we are
going to constrain the agricultural sector further in terms of
the products that it can use and the way that it can use them
then we must make it possible for the industry to change tack
and we must support that process and I think that is the most
important point of all that I would like to make today as far
as the FSA is concerned, it must be involved in helping the whole
industry to change tack.
479. Do you believe that the FSA should
have a role in monitoring farm assurance scheme standards?
(Mr Gill) I believe that if we put in place, as
we intend to do, a series of schemes that are UKAS approved that
would improve standards and the inspections can then be done with
confidence that they will stand up and they will be done on the
basis that they are not subject to, "Well, of course, they
would say that, wouldn't they?", and those should be sufficient
to address the issues that are needed.