Food Standards Agencies

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 March 2000

Citation

Fallows, S. (2000), "Food Standards Agencies", British Food Journal, Vol. 102 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/bfj.2000.070102bag.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


Food Standards Agencies

The last article in this series focused on the progress through the UK Parliamentary system of the Food Safety Bill that has now become the Food Safety Act 1999. The act establishes the Food Standards Agency. This article begins by completing the chronology begun in the last issue to give the full picture of the formal creation of the Food Standards Agency. When the previous article was written the Bill had progressed through the Commons and was part way through its Lords consideration. Since then, the final stages referred to in the last article have been completed:

  • 12-14 October 1999 - consideration at House of Lords Committee Stage was completed using a Grand Committee procedure. This means that rather than constituting a special committee to deal with the act, the Lords recognised that a wide range of members might wish to contribute their expertise and views and hence any member was able to attend. The consideration was at a detailed clause-by-clause level.

  • 28 October 1999 - Lords Report Stage.

  • 3 November 1999 - Third Lords Reading

As indicated in the earlier article, the (near verbatim) texts of the above debates is available on the Parliament Website at the following URL http://www.parliament.uk/

Royal Assent (the final step transforming a Bill into an Act of Parliament) took place on 11 November 1999.

The Food Standards Agency will be a UK body accountable to Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It will operate "at arm's length" from ministers under the day-to-day responsibility of a chairman, deputy chairman and members of a Food Standards Commission; these persons were to be named before the end of 1999. It is intended that the agency will become operational by Spring 2000 - this may occur before this article reaches readers.

It is inevitable that the Food Standards Agency will have an Internet presence; this will be reviewed once the agency is operational.

Other food standards agencies

In the UK we have seen the development of the UK Food Standards Agency from a concept and political commitment through to actuality over the past two years or so. But, it is not only the UK that has created a new agency in this area; new bodies with responsibilities for food safety/food standards matters have also been created in the last year or so in Canada, France and Ireland[1]. Similarly, agencies with responsibilities equivalent to those to be taken up by the UK Food Standards Agency have existed for some time elsewhere in the world[2].

The following sections will look at the three newcomers in alphabetical order.

Canada

Canada has undertaken a significant restructuring of its food safety and standards legislation and the agencies that ensure its proper development and enforcement over the past couple of years. The principal driving force for these changes was the challenge of co-ordinating controls on a wide range of food matters (which range from nutrition through to prevention of food-borne disease).

In 1997, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was established to consolidate all food-inspection-related resources at the federal (national) level.

Details of the work of the CFIA is available at the following URL http://www.cfia-acia.ca/english/toc.html (As with all official Websites in Canada, this is paralleled by a French-language Website.)

The above URL gives access to a table of contents with links to a wide range of information on such matters as:

  • overview of the Agency's work;

  • acts and regulations;

  • agricultural inputs;

  • biotechnology;

  • imports;

  • inspection procedures and manuals;

  • labelling;

  • publications;

  • consumer food safety;

  • industry aspects of food safety (including HACCP);

  • food retail;

  • science and technology.

Each of the above are broad subject areas and within each area there is a wealth of information on the Canadian systems and procedures.

When it established the CFIA, the Canadian Government set in place a system of "checks and balances" by giving the Minister of Health responsibilities for assessment and evaluation of the agency's activities related to food safety. Health Canada, through its food program, also has the authority to set safety and nutritional standards and policies.

The food program of Health Canada is operated through a number of bureaux including the following:

  • Bureau of Food Policy Integration.

  • Bureau of Food Regulatory, International and Interagency Affairs.

  • Bureau of Microbiological Hazards.

  • Bureau of Food Safety Assessment.

Information on these bureaux can be obtained via the following URL: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/english/organization/organisational_structure. html

The Health Canada policy on its assessment responsibilities in respect of food safety is described in a document available at the following URL: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food_aliment/english/organization/food_safety_assessment/policy.htm

Canada is presently updating its food legislation by introducing the Canada Food Safety and Inspection Bill which brings forward key elements of earlier legislation while redrafting these to improve Health Canada's implementation of its mandate in this matter. A briefing paper on the Bill (and hence on the proposed Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act) is available at the following URL: http://www/hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/english/subjects/food_bill.html

France

L'Agence franµaise de sécutité sanitaire des aliments (AFSSA) is a key element of a new approach to public health in France, that was created as part of a series of measures introduced in mid-1998. A decree of 26 March 1999, formally created the agency.

The agency operates under the aegis of three ministries - those charged with health, agriculture and consumer affairs. The Agency has a remit that extends from primary production through to the final consumer. It is intended that the agency will give advice on each of the following:

  • The processes and conditions of production.

  • Food processing.

  • Storage.

  • Final distribution of food.

It is intended also that the new agency will draw together and co-ordinate the previously disparate work of a wide range of organisations and centres such as, for example, the following:

  • Commission de technologie alimentaire (CTA).

  • Commission interministÅrielle d'Åtude des products des produits destinÅs a une alimentation particuliere (CEDAP).

  • Commission interministÅrielle et interprofessionale de L'alimentation animale (C2I2A).

  • Centre national d'Ådudes et de recommandations sur la nutrition et l'alimentation

(CNERNA) (Note that this is not the complete list.)

The AFSSA has a staff of around 700 people.

The general URL to access the AFSSA Website is http://www.afssa.fr/

Much of the AFSSA Website is noted as "provisional" at the date of writing (early December 1999); this clarification refers to the content rather than to the URL.

The AFSSA Website includes:

  • Texts of press communications.

  • Texts of advice given to the French Government - for example, on BSE (see below) and on dioxin contamination of foods.

The AFSSA was brought to the attention of the UK public in October 1999, when a report prepared for the AFSSA was used by the French Government to challenge the advice given by the European Commission's Scientific Steering Committee (SSC). A series of SSC reports over a period of months had considered the conditions needed for the removal of the prohibition of exports of beef from the UK. (As a direct consequence of this scientific advice, the European Commission had proposed, and the Council of Ministers agreed, to a decision (28 December 1998) relating to the removal of the prohibition of beef exports from the UK. This decision is conditional on the establishment of a date-based export scheme.)

The AFSSA document necessitated a re-opening of the BSE debate and a series of reports in this matter have been published as follows:

The AFSSA site is clearly still under development as might be expected for a new agency. The agency itself is also still under development and the following observation highlights a key difference between French and UK procedures:

There is (early December 1999), a request for persons to put themselves forward as expert candidates for a number of committees that the agency is intending to establish. This is very different from the UK - in France there is a call for experts to offer their services as members of these in the UK, government officials determine who are the experts and invite such persons to participate. The URL for the call was: http://www.agriculture.gouv.fr/alim/pres/cand_afssa.htm (it is likely that pages such as this will be short-lived and will be removed.

Republic of Ireland

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has the mission of protecting the (Irish) consumers' health by ensuring that the food consumed, distributed, marketed or produced in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene.

The FSAI can trace its origins to the then government's establishment of a Food Safety Advisory Board in 1995. The establishment of an independent food safety organisation (the FSAI) was proposed in a 1996 report. As in the UK, the major push for the creation of the new authority came with a change of Government. The current Government took office in July 1997 and adopted the following principles:

  • Consumer confidence in Irish food products needs to be paramount.

  • Ireland must be in a position to give "uncompromised and independent verifiable assurances as to the quality of its food products".

In July 1998, the FSAl was created by Act of Parliament, and was formally established on 1 January 1999. The authority took over all the food regulatory functions previously lodged with a range of older institutions and now has powers that apply from "farm to fork".

The Website operated by the FSAI can be accessed at the following URL http://www.fsai.ie/

The site includes information as follows:

  1. 1.

    About the authority:

    • The role of the authority.

    • The membership of its governing board.

    • Membership of its scientific committee and this group's responsibilities.

  2. 2.

    Consumer information.

  3. 3.

    Research information:

    • Statistics on food-borne illness.

    • Public knowledge and attitude survey on food safety in Ireland.

    • Report on food safety and GM foods.

    • Document on prevention of E. co li 0157:H7 infection

  4. 4.

    Industry information:

    • Food hygiene training.

    • Survey of egg usage.

The site also includes links to other food-related Websites - this list is international in nature but is especially useful for contacting Irish food organisations.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement that has led to devolution of Government in Northern

Ireland, there is to be collaboration between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in a number of areas. Food safety is one of the areas selected for the creation of an "implementation body"; the Food Safety Promotion Board will have responsibility for the following functions throughout the island:

  • Promotion of food safety.

  • Research into food safety.

  • Communication of food alerts.

  • Surveillance of food-borne disease.

  • Promotion of scientific co-operation and links between laboratories.

  • Development of cost-effective laboratory services.

The Food Safety Promotion Board is not yet in operation but it is highly likely that it will have a Web presence in due course. It is probable that the URL for this Website will be added to the links listed on the FSAI Website.

European Union

It has been reported in a number of speeches[3] by Commissioners and others, that the EU is to create the European Food Authority as a new and distinct agency with overarching responsibilities for food safety/food standards. At the date of writing, no formal proposal for the European Food Authority has emerged although a Commission White Paper (scheduled for mid-December 1999) will include discussion of a number of options.

Meanwhile, the bulk of food safety/food standards matters are lodged within the aegis of Directorate General 24 which has responsibility for health and consumer protection. EU Commissioner David Byrne, has responsibility for DG24 - prior to becoming a Commissioner, Mr Byrne was Attorney General in Ireland, and played a role in the creation of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Regular readers of this column will have seen numerous references to the DG24 Website that is hosted on the EU Europa server.

The most useful general URL for DG24/is http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/whatsnew/index_en.html

This initially lists those materials that have been posted to the DG24 Website over the past month or so. Items are listed in reverse date order. Links are available to earlier materials. There is no search facility since this is essentially an updating service.

Other national agencies

A number of other national agencies with responsibilities for food safety/food standards have been reviewed in earlier editions of the British Food Journal. (Readers are referred to the earlier reviews but should always note that Websites may be revised with relative ease by the originator and hence the materials now available may prove to be quite different from that seen when the original review was prepared.)

Examples include:

  • The Australia new Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) - reviewed in Food on the Web 16 (BFJ, Vol. 101 No. 10, p. 831). The URL is http://www.anzfa.gov.au/

  • United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) - reviewed in Food on the Web 3 (BFJ, Vol. 100 No. 4, p. 213). The URL is http://www.fda.gov/fdahomepage.html

Concluding comment

This article illustrates that the UK is not alone in its quest to establish a new agency with responsibilities relating to food safety and to food standards. Examination of the Websites of equivalent agencies located in other countries provides information on alternative approaches and also on a range of scientific studies, that provide additional information pertinent to issues current in this country.

If you have identified a Web site likely to be of interest to readers of British Food Journal please contact the author of this series of articles at one of the addresses given below. Acknowledgement will be given to those providing such identification.

By e-mail to stephen.fallows@luton.ac.uk

By fax to 01234 766926 or 01582 743237;

By post to the University of Luton, Luton, UK.

Stephen FallowsUniversity of Luton

Notes

  1. 1.

    There may be other new food agencies of which I am not yet aware and others will, no doubt, be created. If any reader knows of other new agencies I would be grateful to receive information on these and (of course) I am particularly interested to identify links to the Websites operated by these. Any sites identified by readers will be included in future reviews in this series of articles.

  2. 2.

    As with the new food agencies (above), there are other established organisations for which I have not explored the Websites. If any readers can point me to relevant URLs this will be appreciated.

  3. 3.

    See, for instance, the November 1999 speech by David Byrne, to the annual conference of the Food and Drink Federation - Ireland. The text of this speech is available at the following URL http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/library/speeches/speech32_en.html