Shoppers to pay the price in plans for powerful food-standards agency

Food prices seem set to rise to fund a new agency to be established under government plans to clean up the food industry. Food producers will have to fund some of the agency's costs, with a bill of up to pounds 200m. Our Legal Affairs Correspondent has the details.

Ministers plan to charge manufacturers for food licences to help pay for the Food Standards Agency and and the implementation of tougher regulations, according to the White Paper establishing the body, a copy of which has been seen by The Independent.

The bill to the food industry could be pounds 200m, which will raise fears that prices could have to rise. It will also raise concern that the industry will expect trade-offs for funding the scheme. The leaked White Paper, due to be published in November but delayed to next month, also proposes a new advisory committee on animal feed. It is intended to meet concern over the use of genetically altered feed such as maize given to animals and its affects on human health.

The document, marked "final draft", contains wide powers for the agency, including a key role in identifying and recommending balanced and nutritious diets for the general public. Overall, the proposals will create one of the most powerful food watchdogs in Europe. The White Paper is thought to have been delayed after intervention by the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson, apparently echoing fears by the food industry that emphasis on nutrition would deflect the agency from its other tasks.

The "final draft" says the agency, to be created by 1999, should play a "key role" in developing nutrition policy. In particular, it should help provide the definition of a "healthy diet", and propose laws on nutritional aspects of food, including "labelling and claims, dietary supplements sold as food, fortified foods and functional foods". Critics are watching to see if the proposals are watered down. The Health Department has lobbied hard to keep control over nutrition policy.

But it is clear the food industry will be dismayed by the plan to charge them for food licences to fund many of the White Paper's objectives. In a key passage, the document says " ... the Government believes the food industry should bear the bulk of the costs of improving food safety and standards. The food industry as a whole will benefit from the improved public confidence in food safety and standards that the FSA is likely to bring". The best way of achieving this is a "comprehensive system of licensing with charges", it says.

The White Paper makes big claims for the FSA, which will be based in Whitehall and divided into a commission and an executive arm called the agency, modelled on proposals by Professor Philip James in his 8 May report. In his draft preface, the Prime Minister says the plans will "transform" the way food- standard issues are handled, and promises to do away with the "old climate of secrecy and suspicion".

A key part of the paper allows the agency, which will be responsible to the Department of Health, to publish not just its decisions but evidence on why they are made. It will operate under "guiding principles" including protecting public health in food and the need for unbiased assessments.

A controversial guideline is the requirement that the agency's actions on food health are "proportionate" to the risk and take into account the likely cost to industry and consumers. The Consumers Association believes such "political" judgements should be left just to ministers.

The crucial part of the proposals is the separation of food production issues, which will be retained by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), and food consumer protection, which will pass to the agency. The two were seen as conflicting interests, a factor exposed in recent food crises such as the salmonella eggs scare and BSE.

The agency, whose annual expenditure will be more than pounds 100m, will take over the role of advising ministers on policy and the need for new laws in areas such as food safety, food standards and public information and education on food-related matters.

A Health Department source said there have been battles in MAFF over which powers it will retain. The agency will be given the power to intervene legally - under existing or new powers in the 1990 Food Safety Act - in farming practices where these affect food safety. This will ensure it can operate across the whole food chain, from "plough to plate", says the White Paper.

Critics will doubt whether the agency will be given the resources and have the motivation to intervene effectively in what will remain MAFF's main area of responsibility. The agency, which will have the power and funds to commission research, will also have a "major strategic role" in developing a national strategy on the control of animal pathogens - which can cause disease in humans - in the food chain.

The Consumers Association said it broadly backed plans for the FSA, but was concerned about industry funding it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before