Stronger Food Standards Agency needed to beat fraud

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

The FSA should be strengthened to combat food fraud more effectively, said Professor Chris Elliott
The FSA should be strengthened to combat food fraud more effectively, said Professor Chris Elliott

Related tags Food standards agency Fsa

A stronger Food Standards Agency (FSA) – equipped with responsibility for food compositional labelling – is a key recommendation of the interim Elliott Review, commissioned by the government to investigate the supply chain after the horsemeat crisis.

Author of the report Professor Chris Elliott, from Queen’s University Belfast, wrote: “I consider that the lead role for supporting research into authenticity testing, and policy over compositional labelling should revert to the FSA ​[from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)], so as to have closer links to its operational activities.”

Research into authenticity and information to support clear labelling about composition should have closer links to delivery, he said.

In a move widely criticised by consumer watchdog Which? and others, the coalition government shifted policy responsibility for food authenticity and composition – when unrelated to food safety – to the DEFRA. Responsibility for nutrition and health was transferred to the Department of Health (DH).

Crisis management

The Elliott Review also recommended the FSA should ensure it had an up-to-date crisis management plan and work more closely with DEFRA and DH to ensure their respective roles are clear in the event of a major incident.

It recommended the agency should act as an intelligence hub to share information with the food industry and government about food crime threats.

Read the more about the Elliott Review recommendations – including advice to establish a new Food Crime Unit – here​.

Meanwhile Which? argues that the decision to strip the FSA of responsibility for food standards, labelling and nutrition compromised the agency’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to the horsemeat crisis.

‘Caused a lot of confusion’

Sue Davies, Which? chief policy adviser, told Food Manufacture’s Food safety conference in October: “We’ve been concerned for some time about changes made to the FSA in 2010, which has made it a lot weaker and caused a lot of confusion​. That has been picked up by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee and the recent National Audit Office report.”

Responsibility for food labelling, standards and nutrition should be returned to the FSA to ensure it can “take a joined-up approach from a consumer perspective”, she argued.

Speaking at the same conference Andrew Rhodes, FSA chief operating officer, declined to comment directly on the wisdom of the responsibility changes because that would be “venturing into politics”.

But he added: “But there have been numerous reviews, so far, of the incident. None of the reviews said the machinery of government changes affected the response to the incident. Some have said the FSA is weaker – I’m not sure I would agree with that.”

Read industry reaction to the review here​ and the review itself here​.

Elliott’s final report will be published next spring.


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