On Monday reports began pouring out of England about Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s intention to disband the Food Standards Agency and redistribute its responsibilities between existing government departments. His setting this proposal on the table instigated an enormous international debate about the pros and cons of the measure.
There has been an outpouring of support for the Food Standards Agency from every corner of Britain, including messages of support from some unexpected places.
The Food and Drink Federation represents the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector. A few groups the federation represent include: Campells Soup, Coca Cola, General Mills, Jelly Belly, Kelloggs, Kraft, Nestle, Pepsi, Quaker Oats and Tropicana. This group released a statement yesterday voicing its disdain towards the assumption that it–and groups like it–opposed the existence of the agency.
“Recent reports about the future remit of the Food Standards Agency have suggested that food manufacturers are lobbying to close down the [agency]. As the voice of the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, [the Food and Drink Federation] has consistently supported the need for an independent, well funded food safety regulator. The [Food Standards Agency] has been highly effective in regulating food safety in the 10 years since its creation, ensuring that consumer confidence in the food we eat has grown significantly,” the group’s press release said.
This statement likely surprised some analysts who reported earlier this week that the food industry may have been behind the proposed breakup of the agency. Some suggested that the move to disband the agency was in response to backlash the
government received from the food industry for its proposed “traffic
light” system, which involved a labeling system in which
healthy products would be labeled with a green traffic light,
middle-of-the-road ones with a yellow, and unhealthy products with a red light. Big business interests
reportedly spent over $1.2 billion to defeat the measure, though it
enjoyed widespread popularity among consumers.
Another organization, the Institute of Food Science and Technology–the leading independent qualifying agency for food professionals in Europe–released a statement as well. “In reality, the demise of the [Food Standards Agency] would be regarded by many as a loss–not only by the general public but also by the food industry itself,” the institute said in a statement.
The statement continued, “The [Institute of Food Science and Technology] has seen the [Food Standards Agency] working very closely with the food and beverage industry over the past few years as a way to enable it to deliver its key strategic goals and, in particular, to ensure the industry delivers the highest standards of food safety that the general public can rely upon. The adversarial style of relationship suggested in these early reports is neither accurate nor particularly helpful.”
The Food Standards Agency was created in 2000 after a massive outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease. The agency restored consumer confidence in food by regulating the food industry. It employs 2,000 people with a budget of over $170 million a year.
“During its existence the [Food Standards Agency] has provided coherent strategy and direction around key food issues such as reductions in the levels of saturated fat and salt, reductions in foodborne diseases such as Campylobacter in chicken as well as regulating food business operators. These are all still very live issues and the functions of the [agency], in whatever form, will continue to be needed in the future. Very few in the sector will see the breakup of the [agency] as a positive step,” the Institute’s statement concluded.
The BBC reported that yesterday during a questioning session at the British House of Lords, Oxford Professor Lord Krebs asked the current health minister how the proposed break up was a good move. The minister, Lord Howe, responded, “No decisions have yet been taken but we are examining the matter closely.”
The government is expected to make a final decision about the fate of the agency before October.
The Food Standards Agency Traffic Light promotional ad was released in January 2007 on YouTube.