Memorandum by Marks & Spencer
Food-borne micro-organisms are a significant
cause of illness in the UK and have had a considerable impact
on consumer confidence in the food supply chain.
It is crucial that all stakeholders in the supply
chain work together to address these concerns and we therefore
welcome this opportunity to provide our perspective.
We are fully committed to the highest standards
of food safety.
Consumers have a fundamental right to safe food
and it is the responsibility of everybody in the food chain to
provide this. We believe that the integrity of the entire food
chain is essential to maintain the trust of our customers. The
route we use to achieve this is through the adoption of good science
and technology-from animal and plant breeding through to cooking
instructions on the final product.
We are in a unique position of only selling
own-branded goods so our customers have the reassurance of knowing
that our food products are carefully produced to our specifications.
Marks & Spencer has worked to develop a unique world class
food with extensive controls, including the sources and specifications
of raw materials used by our suppliers. By working closely in
partnership with our farmers and manufacturers at every stage
in the supply chain we incorporate all the fundamentals of good
food science and technologyincluding traceability, HACCP
and product testing regimes.
We believe that it is by operating in an open
fashion, by taking customers concerns seriously and working with
a food supply chain that is prepared to adapt its practices to
respond to issues whether scientifically proven or not, that delivers
both food safety and customer confidence.
Marks & Spencer is highly supportive of
the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its objectives. Indeed, the
success of the Agency is in the interest of consumers and industry
The Agency is progressing well towards establishing
its credibility, and although it has yet to face the challenge
of a major food safety scare, it is encouraging that the FSA is
taking such a proactive role. Whilst we recognise that there are
no "quick fixes" the FSA has come a long way in a relatively
short space of time.
The international nature of food safety issues
will also require the Agency to work closely with the newly created
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Previous international
food incidents have been exacerbated by a differing response from
the various EU national authorities. No doubt the recent appointment
of Geoffrey Podger as Executive Director of EFSA will be invaluable
in addressing such concerns given his equivalent role at the FSA.
Marks & Spencer was at the forefront in
pioneering HACCP and its early adoption in the UK (Hazard Analysis
Critical Control Point is a system to identify what steps in a
food process or procedures are most likely to go wrong and to
ensure that these steps are effectively controlled). It remains
the cornerstone of our standard operating procedures, product
specifications and food safety management.
The Food Standards Agency recognises the value
of HACCP and has set tough targets for the reduction of food-borne
illness and a reduction of Salmonella in retail chicken. The Agency
intends to work with industry to promote good practice, and to
implement techniques for controlling food safety by the introduction
We applaud such initiativehowever, we
would ask whether the food industry are sufficiently engaged in
the process in order that such ambitious targets can be achieved.
Disappointingly, a LACOTS/PHLS report highlighted
that 23 per cent of food businesses1 are not even complying with
the similar hazard analysis provisions of the existing hygiene
regulationsa legal requirement since 1995. Evidence from
other research portrays a similar or worse situation. Forthcoming
EU legislation will introduce formal HACCP for food businesses
and its practical implementation will undoubtedly pose a significant
Legislation is unlikely to change the situation
alone, and simplification and de-mystification of HACCP is much
needed (particularly for SME's). The widespread adoption of HACCP
by butchers was due to a successful "carrot and stick"
approachnamely legislation twinned with training and guidance
supported by the authorities.
Whilst we acknowledge the expense of such an
approach, it should be equally recognised that the FSA considers
there could be up to 4.5 million cases of food poisoning each
year at an annual cost to the economy of £350 million.
1. LACOTS/PHLS study of ready-to-eat foods
to which spices have been added (November 2000).
Marks & Spencer considers the regulatory
framework to be fundamentally sound.
The due diligence defence of the Food Safety
Act is worthy of particular mention as it is probably the single
most effective legislative measure that has actually raised food
From the early 1990s and continuously through
to the present day. The due diligence defence places an onus upon
food retailers and manufacturers to take a proactive and preventative
approachand was instrumental in encouraging the early adoption
of HACCP, staff training, product testing etc. The value and benefit
of due diligence is often underestimated by enforcement officers
and legislators alike.
Nevertheless, there are still some anomalies
in food safety legislation between Scotland and England and Wales
(eg different rules on temperature control, the sale of unpasteurised
milk continues in England but is banned in Scotland). We believe
that food safety legislation should be based upon sound science
for the benefit of all consumersirrespective of where they
live in the UK, and indeed the EU.
We welcome the independence of the Food Standards
Agency and its ability to introduce legislation on a sound scientific/technical
basis devoid of political influence.
The FSA has made significant progress with auditing
and monitoring the performance of Local Authorities (LA) in relation
to food law enforcement. This activity has led to a perceptible
culture change within local authorities, and made them much more
aware of public accountability, and the need for appropriate enforcement.
Marks & Spencer welcomes this development
and supports any move to improve the standards of food law enforcement.
The performance of the authorities should also take account of
the provision of industry guidance and training. The initiative
in HACCP training for butchers has highlighted the value of such
Nevertheless, there still remains a huge task
aheadparticularly with regard to the patchy recognition
given to the home authority principle and enforcement concordat,
and also the inconsistency of enforcement.
Moreover, the official enforcement control data
(OCD) collated by the FSA for 2000 identified that almost half
of inspected food premises are not complying with the law (approximately
50 per cent of these cases are food safety contraventions by the
catering sector). The OCD data also indicates that prosecutions
dropped by 30 per cent in 2000 (unlikely to reflect a better degree
of compliance) and a reduction in official sampling (in 1999 sampling
dropped by 22 per cent, and by a further eight per cent in 2000).
Most disturbingly, there is evidence2 to suggest that some LA's
are avoiding the inspection of high-risk premises, and instead
prefer to visit lower-risk businesses. OCD data for 2001 is not
expected to be published until early 2003.
Submission to FSA Board, December 2000.
Given the finite limit to LA resources, the
FSA may wish to consider drawing up priorities and specific targeting
of enforcement activity upon those areas posing the greatest potential
riskindeed it may be appropriate to take a fresh look at
enforcement and review the existing framework.
Marks & Spencer believes the licensing of
food business can help achieve food safety objectives.
We would like to see licensing based upon risk
assessmentof the premises, the operation and staff. The
integrity of the food chain is also essential to maintain the
trust of our consumers and we therefore support the introduction
of licensing for all food businesses, including farms.
Nevertheless, the recent introduction of the
Butchers' licensing scheme has highlighted a number of practical
difficulties that still need to be resolved. Of particular concern
is the inconsistency of enforcement. Furthermore, devolution and
the differing licensing requirements throughout the UK exacerbate
These outstanding issues clearly need to be
addressed before the licensing debate can be taken forward.
The Food Standards Agency research strategy
encompasses a comprehensive approach to food safety research.
Nevertheless, the BSE issue has previously highlighted the need
for an effective co-ordination of research activities across Government
departments and other research fundersa "joined up"
strategy is therefore required leading to collaboration/co-ordination
with the European Food Safety Authority and other research funding
A strong scientific base is required in the
UK to deal with issues such as animal disease that can have a
direct effect upon human health. For this reason, Marks &
Spencer together with its suppliers has establish a Chair in Animal
Health, Food Science and Food Safety at Cambridge University and
through this a number of expert groups to focus on specific zoonotic
From our perspective, we have clear areas of
concern and priorities for food research, including the following
Zoonotic diseases (Salmonella, Campylobacter
Washed ready-to-eat salads.
We have previously responded to the Chief Medical
Officer's report and believe that it is generally excellent with
many good ideas. Moreover, we fully support the creation of the
Agency for Infection Control and Health Protection to add greater
focus to the surveillance and control of infectious disease. However,
we consider that a major opportunity has been missed, that could
be seriously detrimental if not rectified.
It is clearly in the public interest to amalgamate
PHLS with CAMR, NRPB and the National Focus for Chemical Incidents.
But it is more important to ensure that the PHLS and Veterinary
Laboratory Agency (VLA) are combined. This would create a unity
of purpose and bring together methodologies and strategies for
controlling all infectious diseases, whether they mainly affect
humans, animals or both. The distinction between human and animal
infectious disease is very blurred, especially of course regarding
food-borne zoonoses (the most common reportable infectious diseases).
We are saddled with a system that divides, rather
than unites, those working on very closely related problems (and
pathogens) in the medical and veterinary fields. Even to the extent
that there seem to be fundamental differences in working practices
and methodologies between the VLA and PHLS when dealing with identical
Infectious diseases can adapt to new species
and do not respect institutional boundaries. We should therefore
encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to reflect the behaviour
of animal and human pathogens in the modern world. The planned
new Agency, if it were to combine VLA with PHLS, would be an ideal
opportunity to resolve this historical situation.
It is clear that policy making and overall responsibility
for animal disease pathogens might still rest with DEFRA, for
food with the FSA and for human disease with the Department of
Healththough there remains a pressing need to ensure a
seamless and "joined-up" policy across Government. Nevertheless,
Surveillance and Control would be considerable.
Unfortunately we feel that the report has fallen
short in not combining responsibility for human and animal infectious
disease and zoonoses within a single Agency.
We would be pleased to assist in any future
discussion on this matter.
Head of Food Technology