Report recommends stand-alone FSA in Scotland
A review of food standards and safety in Scotland has concluded that the country’s interests would be best served by a stand-alone Scottish Food Standards Agency.
The review, carried out by an independent panel led by Professor Jim Scudamore and published today (4 April 2012), concluded that food safety in Scotland should not be divorced from nutrition, labelling and standards, as it is in the rest of the UK. It also raised concerns over the “very difficult” relationship between the meat industry and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
After considering evidence from 40 stakeholders, the panel concluded that the only feasible options going forward would be an administratively enhanced Scottish FSA, which would extend FSA Scotland’s autonomy, or a stand-alone Scottish FSA, which would create a new public body to fulfil the FSA’s functions for Scotland.
After considering these options, the Panel could only reach a majority view in favour of the stand-alone option. They cited increased flexibility to respond quickly to Scottish needs as the reason behind this recommendation. Only one member of the panel – the consumer representative – objected to this view, raising concerns that the lack of direct access to the greater resources of the FSA could undermine public protection.
On the issue of meat inspection, the panel pointed out that the industry had raised complaints over the pricing structure of meat controls and concern over the calibre of official veterinarians and training. It dismissed the idea of an entirely separate meat inspection service, on the basis that it would be too small to be viable, and recommended that the elements of the meat inspection service that are relevant to Scotland should be transferred to the FSA in Scotland (whether an enhanced FSA or a new stand-alone Scottish FSA).
The review’s findings have been welcomed by the Scottish meat industry. Alan Craig, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), said: “The proposal for a stand-alone FSA in Scotland is in the best interests of Scotland and offers the chance for a welcome fresh start for everyone involved in meat production, processing, retailing and consumption
“The panel undertook a challenging task and has delivered a clear, thoughtful and progressive report, which we hope will result in a rapid move towards the early implementation of its conclusions.
“While the implementation itself will require careful management, we believe there is now an opportunity for the whole meat chain to embrace genuine operational harmony and a truly positive partnership between industry and regulators.
“We’ve believed for a while that a clean slate was needed if the industry in Scotland was to be allowed to move forward as a modern, efficient and responsible sector. The panel’s conclusions give us that chance and we look forward to working with industry partners to achieve the new vision which is now before us.”
Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, said: “The Scottish red meat industry is working hard to improve efficiency and reduce waste in every link of the production chain and the introduction of a separate meat inspection service for Scotland makes total sense in terms of efficiency and cost.
“This news will be welcomed by Scottish processors up and down the country, many of whom are enduring very tight and, in some cases, knife-edge margins.”
Scottish ministers asked Jim Scudamore to lead an independent review into the FSA in Scotland after the UK government made the decision to move responsibility for nutrition and food labelling and standards in England from the FSA to the Department of Health and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2010.
The report is now with Scottish Government ministers for consideration. The FSA has said its board will discuss the report recommendations in an open board meeting, and offer advice to Scottish ministers before they take a decision.