Food Standards Agency to be Abolished by UK Health Secretary
Victory for food manufacturers as health groups accuse Andrew
Lansley of caving in to big business
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, is to announce the abolition
of the Food Standards Agency which has fought a running battle with
industry over the introduction of colour-coded "traffic light" warnings
for groceries, TV dinners and snacks sparking accusations the minister
has "caved in to big business".
As part of sweeping changes Lansley will reassign the FSA's regulatory
aspects including safety and hygiene in the food chain to the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Meanwhile,
its responsibilities for nutrition and diet advice and its public
health remit will be incorporated into the Department of Health. "The
functions of the FSA will be subsumed into the Department of Health
and Defra," a source told Reuters.
Andrew Burnham, Labour's health spokesman, said: "Getting rid of the
FSA is the latest in a number of worrying steps that show Andrew Lansley
caving in to the food industry. It does raise the question whether
the health secretary wants to protect the public health or promote
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, said it was "crazy" to dismember
the FSA. "It had a hugely important role in improving the quality
of foodstuffs in Britain and it was vital to have at the centre of
government a body that championed healthy food. This appears just
the old Conservative party being the political wing of business,"
Tom MacMillan of the Food Ethics Council, said: "The agency was set
up to earn public trust after a succession of food scares. Its wobbles,
like the latest row over GM foods, have come when that commitment
has wavered. Any departments absorbing the FSA's role should heed
that lesson carefully, doing even more to invite scrutiny and banish
the slightest whiff of secrecy, or the new government could face another
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, the organic food
standard-bearer, which had several run-ins with the first FSA chair
Lord Krebs on the issue, said: "Many NGOs campaigning on food thought
for a long time the food industry has an unhealthy degree of influence
over the Department of Health so the great risk is the corporate vested
interests of the food industry will have too strong an influence on
In its green paper on health last year, the Conservatives said a Tory
administration would scale back the role and remit of the FSA and
place the independent watchdog under ministerial control.
Tonight the Department of Health would only confirm the FSA was "under
For the past four years the FSA, which was set up to protect consumers
after the BSE crisis, has been at the centre of a regulatory battle
that has pitted big food companies against consumer groups and public
health professionals, with both sides accusing each other of misinformation
campaigns and excessive lobbying.
The FSA has led calls for the Europe-wide introduction of a traffic
light system that required food companies to label the front of their
products with red, amber or green symbols to denote the amounts of
fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar contained per serving. The agency,
which employs 2,000 staff and spends £135m a year, said this was the
best way to allow Europe's increasingly obese shoppers to make informed
decisions about the food they bought.
The British Medical Association, British Dietetic Association and
British Heart Foundation are among health groups that supported the
scheme. The FSA had also found some support in the supermarket sector.
Although Britain's biggest retailer Tesco has resisted the scheme,
it has been adopted by some high street rivals including J Sainsbury
and Marks & Spencer.
But traffic light labelling was buried by the European parliament
last month, when MEPs backed a rival system favoured by multinationals
such as Nestlé, Kraft and Danone.
The industry advocated "guideline daily amounts", a system that listed
percentages of recommended daily allowances included in each serving.
The food industry spent an estimated £830m on lobbying to stop the
traffic lights scheme, which enjoyed a level of popularity with consumers
because it was relatively easy to understand.
A spokesman for cereal manufacturer Kellogg's said: "The FSA has done
a very good job in terms of food safety and science but there was
a feeling that perhaps its role was becoming far too broad. We welcome
the prospect of a more consensual partnership which will have many
Lansley said on the BBC that he was not in favour of "lecturing, nannying
people or constantly legislating or taxing people". Responding to
calls for a crackdown on junk food from Terence Stephenson, president
of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Lansley said
a cross-government cabinet sub-committee was focused on public health.
Critics noted that the end of the FSA was floated days after the health
secretary offered a pact with the food industry.
In a deal outlined last week, Lansley publicly asked big business
to fund the government's advertising campaign to persuade people to
switch to a healthier lifestyle and in return it would not face
legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food.
Lansley said that he would be cutting out £1bn of savings in "bureaucracy"
and that in the last seven years the costs of red tape in the NHS
He said he was seeking nearly £190m a year in savings from independent
agencies to spend elsewhere in the NHS on top of an £850m crackdown
on management costs.
Tomorrow in a white paper he will set out a radical agenda for the
NHS in the biggest shake-up since its creation in 1948. The minister
will set out plans to give foundation hospitals freedoms to borrow,
free from Treasury restrictions and have more private sector involvement
Controversially, he will allow GPs to spend billions of pounds of
taxpayers' money on behalf of patients who will be able to rank and
choose local hospitals and private providers on their "mortality rates".
But a thinktank said evidence suggesting GPs will be more effective
than health trusts at commissioning NHS services was "weak".
A report by Civitas said the government's plans would lead to a "one-year
dip" in performance in the NHS.
The white paper will promise a greater focus than before on the outcomes
of treatment and will require doctors to keep data on their own performance.
Lansley said he wanted to match the achievements of other European
countries, claiming that 20,000 lives could be saved every year if
cancer and stroke care matched the European best."We will get rid
of the top-down process targets which get in the way improving patient
care. Only by focusing on results for patients will survival rates
improve to the level that they should be," he said.
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