Speculation mounts over future of FSA

By Ben Bouckley and Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fsa, Nutrition, Food standards agency

Speculation mounts over future of FSA
Further questions about the government’s plans for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have been raised this week as the Department of Health (DoH) prepares to unveil a white paper outlining its strategy for the health service.

In its health green paper published last year, the Conservative Party proposed to scale back the FSA’s remit significantly and put those “parts of the FSA responsible for the nutritional content of food into the Dept of Public Health” ​leaving the agency to concentrate on food safety and hygiene.

In a speech at the annual conference of the Faculty of Public Health last week, however, health secretary Andrew Lansley (pictured) made no reference to the FSA, further adding to the uncertainty surrounding its future.

The DoH also declined to respond to reports published this morning that the FSA's remit was to be split between the DoH and DEFRA, insisting that "No decision has been taken over the FSA. All Arms Length Bodies will be subject to a review."

Further details are expected to emerge in the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill, which will provide ministers with powers to abolish, merge or transfer the functions of quangos.

Complex task

Breaking up the FSA was far from straightforward given the complexity and breadth of its remit, particularly in the area of food law and labelling policy, one industry source told FoodManufacture.co.uk .

"It's not just about nutrition and food safety. The industry wants the FSA for the regulatory aspects with Europe on food law and it wants to keep the food chain intact."

The FSA's complex structure - it was set up via an Act of Parliament and is also accountable to devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for its activities within their areas - also made it far from clear how structural changes would be implemented, said another source.

Difficult relationship with the food industry

The FSA has had a difficult relationship with the food industry in recent years, notably over its approach to nutrition, where it has locked horns with the trade over traffic light labelling, nutrient profiling, salt and fat reduction and the Southampton University study on food colours and hyperactivity.

However, the Food and Drink Federation said breaking the FSA was not helpful. A spokeswoman said: "We believe that there is a need for an independent well-funded food safety regulator."

National Obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "I think it would be tragic to split it up since, though not perfect it has done good work. Better the devil you know..."

The White Paper will be published at 3:30pm today after a statement in the House of Commons.

DEFRA declined to comment and referred enquiries to the DoH.

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