Progress to the Food Standards Agency

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 1 June 2000

Citation

Stephen Fallows, D. (2000), "Progress to the Food Standards Agency", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 30 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/nfs.2000.01730cag.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


Progress to the Food Standards Agency

Progress to the Food Standards Agency

Introduction

At the time of writing this article (January 2000), the Government has just announced the key leaders for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that is due to come into operation over the next few months:

  • The chairman of the new agency is to be Professor Sir John Krebs. Professor Krebs was formerly chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council and is the Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University.

  • Professor Krebs' deputy is to be Ms Suzi Leather who has considerable experience in consumer representation.

  • Geoffrey Podger will be chief executive of the new agency. He has been head of the combined Joint Food Safety and Standards Group of the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food since its creation in 1997.

The appointments of chairman and his deputy were made following Nolan procedures that included national advertising of the posts and formal interviews. Other members of the FSA Council are to be announced shortly.

The creation of this new agency offers a rare opportunity to observe the full operation of the UK parliamentary process in the context of a food related matter. In addition, the concepts that underpin the creation of the new agency were given considerable public airing and have been the subject of debate since May 1997.

The Parliamentary procedures are recorded on the Internet, as are various pre-parliamentary documents. This article provides an Internet route through the development of the Food Standards Agency from initial concept through to Royal Assent. This will not be the end of the story - the new agency will have its own Internet presence (indeed this may already be up and running when this article is published). The Agency will be reviewed again in a future article in this series.

Web site reviews

Pre-parliamentary consideration

The Food Standards Bill was only laid before Parliament after considerable "pre-Parliamentary" consultation. Most of the documents that contributed to the development of the Food Standards Bill re available via the Internet.

Official sites of relevance to the development of the pre-parliamentary consideration of the Food Standards Bill include:

  1. 1.

    Interim proposals prepared by Professor Philip James (May 1997). The paper from Professor Philip James, Director of the Rowett Research Institute, that initiated the debate on the Food Standards Agency, was published by the Cabinet Office on 8 May 1997 as one of the first acts from the incoming Labour Government. The full text of Professor James's proposals is available at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/james/cont.htm The press releases that accompanied the launch of the debate are also available via the Internet (Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street).

  2. 2.

    Report to parliament - response to Parliamentary question (July 1997). An early progress report following Professor James' proposals (and the responses to these) was presented to Parliament on 30 July 1997 as a ministerial response to a parliamentary question. This progress report promised a White Paper by autumn 1997. The verbatim text of this response is available on the Parliament Web site, for which the general URL is: http://www.parliament.uk/ This URL is the general access point for all Parliamentary items referred to in this review. However, the Parliament Web site is very extensive and other than for the verbatim accounts of Parliament and its committees (for which the URLs are extremely long and complex) the individual full URL will be given for each item referred to in this article. To access the verbatim text reports of any Parliamentary debates from the opening screen:

    • select Commons or Lords as appropriate; then

    • select the "publications on the Internet" option; then

    • select the "Daily Debates ..." option; then

    • select the date indicated in the text above.

  3. 3.

    White Paper - Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change (January 1998). In January 1998, the Government published a White Paper (that is the statement of the Government's intention to introduce a course of action that may include a programme of legislation). This document, The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change, set out:

    • guiding principles for the operation of the agency;

    • what the agency will do and its role(s);

    • structural and administrative details; and

    • discussion of possible funding arrangements.

    The full text of this paper is available at the following URL: http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/maffdh/fsa/fsa.htm The White Paper was introduced to Parliament on 14 January 1998 and the verbatim account of the ministerial statement and the short debate which followed is available via the Internet on the UK parliament Web site (which can be accessed as described above). In addition to the above, this document was published in print form as Command Paper CM3830 from the Stationery Office. A MAFF fact sheet released at this stage can be accessed via the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk:80/food/fsa/factnet.htm Over 1,000 responses were received by MAFF following publication of the White Paper, The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change. MAFF provided a summary of these responses, which is available via the Internet at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/fsa/fsacosum.htm

  4. 4.

    House of Commons Select Committee Report on Food Safety (April 1998). In April 1998, the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture published a report on food safety. This report has three major sections on the following:

    • the food safety problem;

    • the Food Standards Agency; and

    • conclusions and recommendations.

    The full report and its annexes run to three substantial volumes and are available from the Stationery Office. The full text of the main body of the report is available on the Internet at the following URL: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmagric/331iv/ag0402.htm

  5. 5.

    Consultation Paper on Food Standards Bill (January 1999). In January 1999, the Government published a detailed consultation paper on the draft Food Standards Bill. This document included three main elements:

    • discussion of the issues;

    • draft explanatory notes; and

    • draft of proposed Bill.

    The full text of this consultation paper is available at the following URL: http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm42/4249/4249.htm It is also available with associated fact sheets from the general MAFF site at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/foodindx.htm In addition to the above, this document was published in print form as Command Paper CM4249 from the Stationery Office.

  6. 6.

    Report of House of Commons Select Committee on Food Standards (March 1999). Early in 1999, a special Select Committee on Food Standards was established to review a draft version of the Food Standards Bill ahead of formal Parliamentary consideration of the formally presented Bill. The report from this Committee is available via the Parliament Web site: http://www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/fshome.htm It should be noted that the Government did not accept all of the recommendations made by this Select Committee. In particular, the Committee recommended that the Meat Hygiene Service should be kept as an independent body separate from the Food Standards Agency.

Parliamentary proceedings - Food Standards Bill

  1. 1.

    First Reading - House of Commons. The Food Standards Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 10 June 1999 and given its first reading (which is a mere announcement of its existence). On the following day, the initial version of the Bill was published in both print and Internet editions. The URL for the Bill as introduced into the House of Commons is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199899/cmbills/117/1999117.htm Also published at this time were two associated documents:

  2. 2.

    Second reading - House of Commons. The first parliamentary debate on the Bill took place on 21 June 1999 with the second reading. As is usual at second reading, the debate focused on the principles that underpin the Bill and provided MPs with the chance to air their views (and prejudices) on a wide range of food matters. This debate lasted around five hours and the full text of the debate is available on the UK Parliament Web site (follow the instructions given above).

  3. 3.

    Committee Stage - House of Commons. The Commons Committee stage of consideration of the Bill (in which the Bill was considered in some detail on a clause by clause basis) took place in 11 sessions between 29 June and 15 July 1999 - full verbatim records of these sessions are available via the Internet. To access these records from the parliament opening screen, select:

    • Commons; then

    • the "publications on the Internet option"; then

    • "Standing Committee Debates on Bills"; then

    • "Session 1998-99"; then

    • "Food Standards Bill"; then

    • the session of interest - each of the 11 sessions has a separate link.

    Alternatively the following URL should work: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm/cmfoods.htm This should shortcut to the fifth of the above steps.

  4. 4.

    Third reading - House of Commons. Following consideration of detailed amendments by Standing Committee B (above), a second House of Commons debate took place on 22 July 1999 with the third reading. At this stage of Parliamentary consideration of any Bill, the debate is intended to concentrate on the actual substance of the proposed legislation and to consider the possibility of amendments. Although, on this occasion, debate was considerable (despite being restricted to six hours) the actual outcome was minimal change since the principal amendments (proposed in order to stimulate debate) were each withdrawn. With Commons agreement given at the end of the third reading, the Bill passed to the House of Lords. As with the second reading, the full verbatim account of the third reading debate is published on the Internet (follow the instructions given above).

  5. 5.

    First reading - House of Lords. First reading in the Lords took place on 23 July 1999 and a revised version of the Bill including amendments agreed by the Commons was published in both print and Internet editions. The URL for the Bill as introduced into the House of Lords is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/pa/ld199899/lbbills/088/1999088.htm At this date, a revised set of explanatory notes was also published. The URL for this document is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/pd/ld199899/ldbills/088/en/99099x.htm

  6. 6.

    Second reading - House of Lords. Second reading of the Bill in the Lords took place in a three-hour debate on 30 July 1999 as the last item of business before the Lords adjourned for the summer. As with House of Commons debates, the full verbatim proceedings are available via the Internet. (Follow the instructions given above to reach the verbatim transcript.)

  7. 7.

    Committee stage - House of Lords. This took place 12-14 October 1999. Consideration 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. Consideration was at a detailed clause by clause level. (Follow instructions above to reach the verbatim transcript.)

  8. 8.

    Report stage - House of Lords. This took place on 28 October 1999. (Follow instructions above to reach the verbatim transcript.)

  9. 9.

    Third Lords reading. This took place on 3 November 1999 (Follow instructions above to reach the verbatim transcript.)

  10. 10.

    Royal assent. This final step (that transforms a Bill into an Act of Parliament) took place on 11 November 1999. With this step the Food Standards Act 1999 came into being. The full text of the Act can be obtained from the Internet at the following URL: http://www.tsonline.co.uk/op_gateway/index.htm This is the opening screen for the "Official Publications Gateway". To find the text of the Food Standards Act 1999, select:

    • "Official Doc's Co. UK" from left-hand menu; then

    • "UK"; then

    • "By title"; then

    • "Acts of Parliament"; then

    • "1999"; then

    • "Food Standards Act 1999" which is in the list headed "Public Acts".

    The Act and other printed documents can also be ordered via the Internet from the Stationery Office. The URL is http://www.tsonline.co.uk/

Concluding comment

This is the first item of primary food legislation that can be followed from initial concept (in May 1997) through to final adoption as an Act of Parliament (in November 1999) using the Internet as the principal research tool. Previously, the various documents have only been available to those with the time and expertise to track through the libraries that hold the relevant collections. Now the documents can be obtained from the Internet and downloaded to a home PC.

The article and the Web sites to which it refers illustrate two points very clearly:

  1. 1.

    The official procedures that take place as legislation evolves from initial concept through to final enactment. The Parliamentary procedures described are those which apply to all Acts of Parliament. Hopefully, this article will have contributed to readers' understanding of the UK Parliament's procedures and practice.

  2. 2.

    Because of the degree of public concern about food safety, the Food Standards Act 1999 has been subject to a substantial degree of pre-parliamentary consultation above the level that is usual. These consultations led to some changes in the evolving Food Standards Bill (such as the removal of a proposed funding levy on all food businesses); however, some recommendations (such as the non-inclusion of the Meat Hygiene Service within the Food Standards Agency, as recommended by the special Food Standards Select Committee) have been rejected by Government.

Finally, it should also be recorded that in addition to the above, the progress to the Food Standards Agency has received significant press coverage that can be accessed via the various news media Internet sites. Similarly, a number of organisations have published their corporate views on the new agency on their own Internet sites. Examples include:

If you have identified a Web site likely to be of interest to readers of Nutrition & Food Science please contact the author of this series of articles as follows: by e-mail to stephen.fallows@luton.ac.uk; by fax to 01234 766926 or 01582 743237; by post to the University of Luton.

Dr Stephen FallowsUniversity of Luton