Food Standards Agency boss calls for collaboration

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Miles: 'It is time to refocus on how we can achieve a food system that maintains the robustness and resilience of the current system'
Miles: 'It is time to refocus on how we can achieve a food system that maintains the robustness and resilience of the current system'

Related tags: Supply chain, Food standards

Government and industry must collaborate more to create a food strategy fit for purpose and tackle the failings of the past, according to Food Standards Agency (FSA) chief executive Emily Miles.

Miles outlined the roles of Government, industry and consumers in her comprehensive plan for transforming the food system in the UK.

Miles said: “April, May and June brought into sharp focus a food system that is good at delivering cheap food, consumer choice, and immediate availability. It was those strengths that we scrambled to protect, and the public demanded we maintain.

“But now, as news of vaccines bring some hope, I think it is time to refocus on how we can achieve a food system that maintains the robustness and resilience of the current system, but also delivers on a vision for a healthier and more sustainable supply of food.”

Working with Government

She called on the food industry to work more closely with the Government to make it easier for consumers to choose food that is good for them and the planet. Similarly, she urged the Government to provide greater clarity about what is needed from food businesses, and to aim to improve food standards as a joint endeavour.

“It is essential to think in a joined-up way about how to incentivise, not just instruct, food businesses to do the right thing,”​ Miles explained. “But we must do this across systems, rather than product-by-product, establishment by establishment.

“One of the central aspects of the FSA’s regulatory reform programme is exactly this – looking to treat the big industry actors as one entity, rather than many establishments.”

This joined up approach was also the approach Miles suggested for the Government in general. With the responsibility for food policy spread across multiple Government departments, she called for a structural change in the system to help focus food strategy.

Arrangements in the past ‘have not worked’

“It’s clear that the arrangements over the last decade have not worked,” ​said Miles. “Nearly two-thirds of us are overweight or obese.”

“In terms of sustainability, the UK ranks only eighth out of ten European countries in the Global Food Sustainability Index. On ‘sustainable agriculture’ impacts, the UK ranks 20th out of 34 countries. We need to do better.”

Miles suggested that the next part of the National Food Strategy tackles these issues and promotes food that is good for health and good for the environment.

“The arrangements should ensure a strong independent role for the FSA and must make it possible that we work seamlessly within government and with the food industry,”​ Miles continued. “Along with a shared goal, there should be a pooling of responsibilities into a smaller number of actors, coupled with a widening of the governance to ensure legitimacy.

‘Four-country approach’

“We need an active four-country approach, with shared ambitions and action plans where each of the four sets of health and food ministers work more closely together.”

Miles also identified the role consumers played in dictating food hygiene strategy in the UK, referencing the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and the effect consumer choice had on supply chains. Consumers, she said, ‘vote with their wallets’, pressuring businesses to change their practices if their customers are against them.

However, relying on shopper purchasing choices to push industry into providing healthier and more environmentally sustainable produce put too much burden on consumers, Miles argued.

“This is why I think consumer choice only gets you so far as a policy mechanism. Consumers pay taxes so that these difficult issues, some beyond their individual influence, are dealt with in their interests.”

In conclusion

Miles stressed her intent was not to remove choice from consumers, nor to reduce or increase regulation, but to create the right regulation and constructive relationships between Government and the food industry. 

“My vision for how the food system works in the future is one where government uses its powers and knowledge on behalf of the people of the UK, so that they can trust that their food does good.”

“It should make it easy for people to choose food that is good for them and for the environment and make it easy for businesses to produce food that is good for people and the environment.”

Related topics: Supply Chain, Obesity, COVID-19, Operations

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