Food Standards Agency to keep food safety role

by Eric Schroeder
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LONDON — A little more than a week after reports surfaced that the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency was set to be abolished, the Department of Health (D.O.H.) on July 20 said the agency will be retained, but with a renewed focus on food safety.

As part of a reorganization of responsibilities among U.K. governmental agencies, the F.S.A. will focus on food safety policy and enforcement, the D.O.H. will focus on nutrition policy in England, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will focus on country-of-origin labeling and other non-safety related food labeling and food composition policies in England.

“Reorganizing in this way will contribute to the government’s objectives to improve efficiency, and is paramount to the key priority of improving the health of the nation by creating a public health service,” the D.O.H. said. “To achieve this coherence, some policy-based functions can be brought ‘in house’ to give a more coordinated approach on health and food issues.”

Under the new framework, the F.S.A. will:

• Retain a clearly defined departmental function focused on its core remit of food safety. On crucial issues of food safety, the independent advice from F.S.A. experts will be final.
• Retain current responsibility for nutrition and labeling policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
• Continue to employ 2,000.

“Food safety and hygiene have always been at the heart of what the agency does,” said Lord Rooker, chair of the F.S.A. “They are our top priorities in protecting the interests of consumers.”

The F.S.A., which was founded in 2000 after a number of high profile outbreaks and deaths from foodborne illnesses, has come under fire recently from the U.K. food industry for its promotion of a “traffic light” warning system for food labeling. The European Parliament in June rejected the mandatory use of traffic light food labeling on products.

The D.O.H. now will take over nutrition policy in England, including front-of-package nutrition labeling, such as Guideline Daily Amounts. The Department’s new responsibilities also are expected to allow it to press industry to contribute more on improving the health of the nation, including through reformulation and provision of nutrition information in supermarkets and restaurants.

“Our ambition is to create a public health system that truly helps people live longer and healthier lives,” said Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley. “To achieve it, we can’t stand still. Changes are inevitable.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the Food Standards Agency to continue providing independent expert advice to people about food safety. But bringing nutrition policy into the Department makes sense. It will enable a clear, consistent public health service to be created, as our Public Health White Paper later this year will set out.

“I believe — in the long term — we’ll have a clearer and less bureaucratic system for public health. The end result will focus on turning expert advice and support into better health.”

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