New ministers keep their promises

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The Independent Online
An independent food standards agency will be the first priority for a reorganised and renamed Ministry of Agriculture, its new head Dr Jack Cunningham pledged yesterday.

He added that the Government would also seek a "positive and constructive" dialogue with the EU over the ban on British beef exports.

Dr Cunningham's vision for the ministry was one that was "more open" and with more consumer voices, he said. He was due to meet Professor Philip James of Aberdeen University last night to discuss the report on food safety commissioned earlier by Tony Blair.

A period of consultation would then be followed by legislation "as soon as the business timetable allows", but Dr Cunningham refused to speculate on how long this would take.

MAFF would also be reorganised as people likely to be involved in the food agency move over there. Dr Cunningham revealed that the ministry would be renamed but said the new name had not been finalised.

He also promised that reports on food safety would be made available to the public: "I have already given instructions to my department that any issue concerning public health and wellbeing must be brought forward immediately."

On BSE, he said that he would not flinch from tough decisions to be made over the world-wide ban on British beef. He said he planned to go to Brussels on Monday for introductory meetings with the EU Farm Commissioner, Franz Fischler, and the Fisheries Commissioner, Emma Bonino.

He said he would not put specific proposals to the commissioners on Monday, but pledged the Blair government would make a "fresh start" on tackling the BSE crisis.

He added: "In general, I think the Labour government has a better chance of doing constructive business with the EU, full stop, whatever the issue, simply because we shall be more positive about the EU."