That was the view expressed at the FSA board meeting today (Wednesday March 5).
The board feared the agency couldn’t effectively set up an “FSA food crime police” – recommended by Professor Chris Elliott’s interim report into the horsemeat scandal published in December – without dropping other important activities.
The FSA’s budget – together with those of local authorities that are at the front line of food safety and authenticity inspections – has been under the cosh for the past few years as government cuts have hit.
But before it decides on its strategic priorities for 2015-20, its board will need to know what the government expects from it following the Elliott Review and what funding it can expect to support its future activities.
Food Crime Unit
Elliott, who is expected to publish his final report in late spring, called for a new Food Crime Unit to be set up within the FSA in an attempt to stop future food authenticity fraud incidents such as ‘horsegate’. This was among a raft of other recommendations he made that have yet to be approved by government.
Reporting to the FSA Board today, chief executive Catherine Brown said the executive was working to adopt those recommendations “that can be implemented within the existing resources without negatively impacting core activity”.
The FSA has agreed with other government departments that it should lead on the majority of recommendations made by Elliott to the government.
A summary to a paper presented by FSA director of regulatory and legal strategy Rod Ainsworth to the board on Elliott’s recommendations stated much could be achieved within the FSA's existing legal framework.
But it added: “However, all such changes, to be effective, will require clear and potentially difficult decisions on allocation of resources, or identification of additional resources.”
‘Self-contained food crime police force’
It went on to say: “A change on the scale of the creation, in effect, of a self-contained food crime police force within the FSA would require radical alteration to the powers of the FSA and very careful consideration of how links with the rest of the enforcement system could be made to operate effectively in such a model.”
Presenting the report, Ainsworth said: “The change in our focus would involve difficult choices.”
To work properly, Ainsworth said the powers of the FSA or of the Food Crime Unit within the FSA, would need “wholesale and radical restructuring”, a phrase described by board member for Scotland Dr Jim Wildgoose as “chilling”. Wildgoose asked: “How much will that cost?”
Summing up the debate, FSA chairman Tim Bennett, remarked: “Resource is an issue we will continually come back to … we are asked to do more with less resource. We have to make that point.”