Welsh councils have expressed serious concern about Food Standards Agency proposals which would reform how food safety is regulated and inspected in Wales.
Commenting on the proposals, WLGA Spokesperson for Regulatory Services Cllr Neil Moore (Vale of Glamorgan), said:
“I am appalled and disturbed to hear that it is the intention of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to hand over the regulation of our food, to those who produce the food.
How can this be right or safe? In recent years we witnessed the horsemeat scandal where certain unscrupulous businesses put profits before quality and honest descriptions. The mistrust of consumers as a result of recent food fraud on a national scale has not gone away. How can we therefore have a system which relies on food businesses regulating themselves?
In Wales we remain in the shadow of an E-coli outbreak which tragically resulted in a death. Local government is committed to seeking to avoid any reoccurrence of this. Can self-regulation of something so important as the food we put into our bodies be trusted? These proposals are at best a gamble. In a global supply chain the food industry lobbies vigorously for a "light touch" regulatory system. We recognise that testing, tracking and tracing ingredients comes at a cost. But not testing them will cost society more.
The FSA largely arose from the aftermath of the BSE crisis. It was set up to protect the public. In this context the WLGA feels that these new proposals would amount to an abrogation of that fundamental duty. There can be no justification to dilute our independent enforcement regime to the point where food businesses regulate themselves and the statutory agencies such as environmental health are held off at arm’s length. We don’t believe that we can keep the public safe by leaving it to businesses to send us some sort of on-line assurance that they meet the requirements of the law.
Despite the FSA’s view to the contrary, we believe that the current inspection and regulation of a food business by truly independent Environmental Health and Trading Standards professionals remains the most trusted method of inspecting kitchens for filthy and unhygienic food preparation conditions, for analysing samples of processed meat for horsemeat, where there should be none.
As the Welsh Local Government Association, we strongly disagree with the FSA’s approach and we understand the public, who the FSA have consulted, also disagree. The WLGA, therefore calls for the FSA to immediately abandon their plans to deregulate food safety, replacing it with self-regulation by the food businesses themselves. This is merely bending to the wishes of the self-same food businesses who wish to keep regulators away.
Our experience in Wales is that the vast majority of responsible businesses strive for the highest standards. They welcome the presence of our officers. They value the advice and support they can offer them; but businesses can make mistakes, while others cut corners. The Welsh Government’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme has helped raise standards in Wales and through our officers and businesses working in partnership. Over 60% of food businesses in Wales now achieve five stars – independently assessed by local authority officers. This is fantastic news for the consumer, for our businesses and for Wales’ reputation as a food destination. The FSA proposals could undermine this and the excellent work undertaken to date.
The WLGA urges the Welsh Government to urgently consider the best interests of consumers in Wales and consider how best to protect consumers through a Wales-specific, joined up approach to food that takes account of Wales’ needs, priorities and our devolution journey. We are currently looking at Scotland’s approach as a possible model.
We strongly contend that the public do not deserve a weakened and diminished investigatory regime, but instead would expect an improved system of assurance in food, based upon the independence and professionalism of Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers.”
Notes for Editors:
- The Food Standards Agency’s proposals ‘Regulating Our Future – Developing the FSA's New Approach to Regulating Food Businesses' are available here
- The Directors of Public Protection in Wales’ response to the above proposals ‘In Safe Hands' is available here