Public Health: Food agency `essential'

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The Independent Online
THE MAN who led the investigation into Britain's deadliest outbreak of food poisoning warned the Government yesterday not to scrap or limit its plans for a Food Standards Agency.

Professor Hugh Pennington said more public health scandals were likely if ministers abandoned the commitment to set up the independent safety watchdog. Downing Street was forced to deny reports that the agency would be killed off, but it appears likely that it will not feature in next month's Queen's Speech, pushing its implementation beyond 2000.

Professor Pennington, who led the inquiry into the E.coli outbreak that claimed 21 lives in Scotland, said that such moves would be "disastrous".

He said that the deaths could have been prevented if action had been taken to improve monitoring and regulation of food hygiene in shops. As the Consumers' Association echoed the warnings, Downing Street dismissed the speculation. "There is no question of there not being one at all. There is a commitment to establish a Food Safety Agency," said the Prime Minister's spokesman.

The agency was promised in Labour's manifesto in response to widespread public concern over BSE, salmonella and E.coli and a White Paper earlier this year promised it wide-ranging powers. But it has become clear the plans will be diluted after pressure from farmers and the food industry.

Jeff Rooker, an Agriculture minister, announced yesterday the Government was commissioning research into the cross-over of genetically modified food to organic crops.