3 Food |
26. Commensurate with its central role in Defra's
remit, food policy is a common theme underpinning a great deal
of our work during this Parliament. We have addressed a plethora
of related issues including the security of the UK's food supplies
and food production issues, food safety, and fisheries.
27. Although the UK currently enjoys a high level
of food security, it faces challenges from future changes in weather
patterns and the changing global demand for food. In the past
year we have conducted two inter-linked inquiries into the actions
the Government and food production sector need to take to ensure
the nation's future food security, as well as the actions consumers
can take and how demand can be managed to ensure all have access
to safe, affordable and healthy food. Our Food security report,
addressing production issues, recommended that supermarkets shorten
their supply chains; that more food be produced per hectare of
land in a sustainable way including through better use of technology;
and that plans need to be in place for alternative animal feed
in the event of increases in global demand threatening the affordability
of UK supplies. The
report flagged up strategic issues which a future Committee may
wish to monitor, such as the level of UK self-sufficiency in the
light of the fact that currently only 68% of the nation's food
supply is produced in the UK. We welcome Defra's efforts to promote
consumption of UK products by UK consumers as well as to increase
exports to countries such as China. We also looked at genetic
modification (GM) technology and its ability to import desirable
traits into a plant, but acknowledged that the Government must
address consumers' concerns about the implications of GM, using
science to counter food safety fears. This is a developing issue
with new approaches emerging from the EU since we reported. In
future Member States will have more freedom to determine their
own approaches to allowing or banning the use of GM crops in their
countries. This is an issue which may warrant future scrutiny
of Defra policies.
28. Our Food security: consumption, demand and
waste report focused on the impact of myriad choices consumers
make every day over what food to buy and from where to buy it.
A key government objective should be to harness these choices
to deliver public policy goals, such as a healthy population and
reduced environmental impacts through sustainably grown products
and lower levels of waste. Our Committee also heard evidence on
food affordability and its link to the expanding food aid sector.
Factors identified as affecting food affordability included rising
global prices and pressure on household incomes. Defra should
appoint a Food Security Co-ordinator, with a remit including spurring
a step-change in the redistribution of surplus food to those in
need. Future issues for scrutiny include progress in reducing
food waste from its current annual level of 15 million tonnes
against a background of budget constraints for bodies such as
the Waste and Resources Action Programme, and action by retailers
to promote choices of healthy, affordable and sustainably produced
29. One of the major topics impacting upon our work
this Parliament has been the safety of the UK's food supply networks.
Our initial scrutiny was triggered by the horsemeat scandal but
we subsequently broadened our work to consider wider aspects of
the integrity of food supply networks.
30. On 15 January 2013 the Food Standards Authority
(FSA) announced that FSA Ireland had found horse and pig DNA in
a range of ostensibly entirely beef products on sale at several
following day we announced an inquiry into the Contamination
of beef products, which reported in February 2013.
We were concerned that food safety and hygiene were more likely
to be compromised if the authenticity of food could not be assured.
We argued that all parts of the food supply chain had a responsibility
to ensure the safety and authenticity of their products. The Government
agreed: its response stated that the primary responsibility for
the quality of food products and their accurate labelling lay
with the food businesses that supplied them.
31. We held a follow-up Food Contamination inquiry
to consider the testing of processed and frozen beef products
sold in the UK. We noted that more than 99% of products tested
were found to be free of horse DNA.
However we also noted that in separate, EU-mandated tests for
the presence of the drug phenylbutazone (known as bute) in horses
slaughtered for food, the UK had the largest number of positive
results. We recommended that the Government work with the EU to
ensure the introduction in every Member State of a single national
database for the issuing of horse passports to help combat fraud.
ELLIOTT REVIEW: FOOD SUPPLY NETWORKS
32. Defra commissioned Professor Chris Elliott of
Queens University, Belfast and Director of the Institute for Global
Food Safety, to examine and make recommendations on the integrity
and assurance of food supply networks and to consider issues which
might impact upon consumer confidence in the authenticity of food
products. Interim conclusions were published in December 2013,
and a final report was published in July 2014.
In both reports Professor Elliott considered the role of the FSA
and the ability of public laboratories to test for food authenticity,
auditing and information-sharing within the industry. Professor
Elliott discussed his interim findings with us in January 2014,
and his final conclusions in November 2014.
On both occasions we examined the diminished role of the FSA following
machinery of government changes in 2010. These changes divided
responsibilities between the FSA, Defra and the Department for
Health, and arguably reduced the UK's ability to horizon scan
and identify possible food authenticity or health concerns because
of poor co-ordination between departments and lack of clarity
on the division of responsibilities.
33. The Government's September 2014 response accepted
all the recommendations made in Professor Elliot's final review:
this included the creation of a Food Crime Unit (FCU) within the
FSA and a cross-government group on food integrity and food crime.
The first prosecution for horsemeat contamination took place in
January 2015. The
FSA estimated that the FCU would cost £1.5 million in 2014-15,
rising to £2 million for the first, two-year phase. The FSA
is expected to maintain the FCU from within its existing resources.
However, by the end of 2015-16, the FSA's overall budget will
have been reduced by £22 million since the start of the horsemeat
problem in early 2013.
We are concerned that taking the FCU beyond the first stage of
development would stretch the FSA's current budget and resources.
A future Committee may wish to consider further the remit of the
FSA. Furthermore, an update on the FCU's progress and the work
of the new cross-government group could be sought. In particular
any expansion of the FCU would be challenging given the reducing
budget of the FSA. We took further evidence in February 2015 from
FSA Chief Executive, Catherine Brown, who reiterated that a full
costing exercise had yet to be completed and that risks from food
fraud and contamination, remained one of the FSA's major challenges.
34. We launched an inquiry in April 2012 as a response
to the moratorium on the production and use of desinewed meat
(DSM) issued by the EU.
The moratorium had an immediate negative effect on this part of
the UK meat industry. This was not an issue of food safety, and
there was no public health concern about DSM: it was an issue
of food product labelling.
35. We considered the actions of the Commission to
be heavy-handed and disproportionate and recognised that individual
businesses were suffering huge losses with no warning or chance
to prepare. An October 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice
confirmed that DSM could not be sold under this label in the UK:
instead the product should be labelled as mechanically separated
36. Our inquiry criticised the FSA for a lack of
political awareness. The moratorium came as a surprise: the Authority
failed to prepare or to protect the UK meat industry. The Government's
response to our Desinewed meat report stated that the FSA
had worked hard to mitigate the impact of the moratorium and that
it did not believe there was an alternative course of action that
the Agency could have followed.
However, a future Committee may wish to consider the Government's
effectiveness in influencing the policies of EU bodies such as
the Health and Food Safety Directorate.
Common Fisheries Policy
37. We considered fisheries issues in 2011 with specific
regard to domestic fisheries management,
and again in 2012 with a wider look at the EU's proposals for
reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CfP).
During the former inquiry, fishermen told us of their frustration
with a number of aspects of the operation of the quota system
used to determine how much fish vessels are permitted to catch,
including the reallocation of unused quota. We were critical of
Defra's failure to address quota management effectively, a short-coming
which we considered had led to many members of the inshore fleet
being disadvantaged. Defra's response recognised that there was
uncertainty and a lack of transparency and flexibility in the
Its response to its own 2011 consultation on reform stated that
tackling the difficulties facing those operating smaller vessels
(those under 10 metres long) in the English fleet remained a key
priority, but the Department did not then take forward some of
its own proposals. Instead it has piloted a method of allocating
quota to local community groups.
We came back to this issue this January, in an evidence session
with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).
It was clear from their evidence that quota management remains
a contentious topic for many parts of the fishing industry.
38. Any assessment a future Committee undertakes
into fisheries management will take place in the context of the
implementation of the substantial reform of the CfP which has
taken place since 2014. Key developments include a 'landing obligation'
(sometimes referred to as a 'discard ban') under which fish caught
must be landed, and a promise of more regionalised approaches
to fisheries management. Our EU proposals for reform of the
Common Fisheries Policy report criticised centralised micro-management
by the European institutions, so we welcome the reforms as a step
in the right direction.
However, whilst some initial progress has been made, devolution
of decision-making to regional Member States is still at an early
stage. We expressed reservations about the landing obligation
since it could simply shift "unwanted fish in the sea to
unwanted fish on land". We wanted a delay in the ban to 2020
to allow time for groundwork for effective implementation to be
done. A future Committee may wish to assess whether the pelagic
landing obligation now in place and the proposed demersal one
to come into force from 2016, work effectively to end the wasteful
catching of fish that are subsequently not put to good use. We
support sustainable fishing but raised in our report the concern
that the 2015 target for raising stocks of fish to above the levels
that can produce a 'Maximum Sustainable Yield' was not achievable.
Future work programmes may wish to consider how effectively EU
decision-making about the appropriate levels is supported by scientific
evidence and how well this is translated into the quotas allocated
to UK fishermen.
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