The shape of a new Scottish food body is set to be sketched out following a consultation period opened last week on the responsibilities and functions of an authority separate from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The consultation period will consider how the food safety body will operate – including the possibility that it could have wider responsibilities than the FSA in Scotland, such as monitoring problems like alcohol, obesity and food poverty, or advising on health claims in food advertisements. Others have suggested a new Scottish food authority could also include issues like the environment, food provenance, sustainability or food security in its scope.
MSP Alex Neil, cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing, said that the UK’s FSA had been undermined by the UK government’s decision in 2010 to shift responsibility for nutrition labelling to the Department of Health, and food labelling to Defra (the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
“We had already noted the potential risk to that approach, and it was for precisely this reason that Scottish Ministers took the decision last year to create a new food body for Scotland,” Neil wrote in a consultation document.
“…The important principles in delivering better standards are that advice on food safety, nutrition and labelling should be independent and transparent, and should be provided by an organisation which should remain at arm’s length from central government.”
The Scottish government said that it intends to set up an authority that is responsive to Scotland-specific issues, particularly in light of high rates of obesity and diet-related ill-health.
Neil added that the ongoing horse meat crisis “has thrown into sharp relief the importance of having a single independent public body with clear responsibility for all aspects of food safety and standards in Scotland.”
In parallel with the consultation, the UK’s FSA has opened a 12-week consultation of its own, proposing three new legal powers that could be included in the new food body bill: Giving Scottish ministers the authority to make food companies display the results of food inspections; to enforce penalties; and to detain food when “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it does not meet the requirements of food law in relation to food standards or labeling”.
More information – including how to comment – on the Scottish government’s consultation is available online here .
More information on the FSA consultation is available here .