Well, the axe has now fallen and the government has announced its decision over the future of the Food Standards Agency. (If you are not up to speed on the background, click here.)
As axes go, it is a pretty spongy one as they propose to retain 2,000 of the current 2,100 jobs (not much dent in the deficit there), but, as ever, it is the nuanced phrases which count.
The ministerial statement ‘recognises’ the important role of the Food Standards Agency in England, which will continue to be responsible for food safety. The Food Standards Agency will remain a non ministerial department reporting to Parliament through Health ministers’ – but not, as it was intended to be, an independent agency specifically exempt from ministerial oversight – and therefore, influence.
The Department of Health press release reveals the underlying agenda even more clearly:
‘Nutrition policy will be transferred to the Department of Health. This includes front of pack nutrition labelling, such as Guideline Daily Amounts. (The final sod falls on the grave of consumer-friendly traffic light nutrition labelling.)
The transfer of nutrition policy into the Department of Health directly contributes to the Governmentâ€Ÿs plans for public health. In the long-term, bringing policies “in houseâ€Ÿ will enable better services to be created and clearer information to be given to the public. (And ensure that the agency does not go round espousing projects, such as consumer-friendly traffic light nutrition labelling, which the food industry does not like.)
The Department of Health will, as a result, be able to press industry to contribute more on improving the health of the nation. This includes reformulation, and provision of nutrition information in supermarkets and restaurants. (Hmmm…)
The one bright spot for food allergic people is that food allergy is seen not only to be part of food safety (a non controversial area) but is relatively non-controversial in itself. Moreover, the growth of the freefrom food industry means that a growing section of the food industry has an active interest in freefrom food and allergy, so, keep your fingers crossed, the Food Allergy Branch of the FSA may be left relatively untouched to continue its good works.