Minister pledges independence of new food standards agency

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The new Food Standards Agency must be consumer-driven, independent, and accountable, David Clark, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said yesterday.

Speaking to the National Food Alliance in London, Dr Clark said that there would be an announcement on the consultation so far in the next two weeks, and that the Government would be publishing proposals in a White Paper in the autumn, and produce a draft Bill in the spring of 1998.

"Confidence in the safety of the food we eat was severely undermined in recent years," he said. "The pounds 4 billion BSE crisis and the E. coli outbreaks which resulted in such tragic loss of life have made unanswerable the case for a rigorously independent, open and effective Food Standards Agency."

So far there had been 642 responses to the report of Professor Philip James, who looked at the possibility of setting up an agency.

"Protection of public health is the essential aim of the agency we are setting up," said Dr Clark.

"The tremendous response we have received to the consultation period which followed the James Report underlines the importance of the issue to every man, woman, and child in Britain."

Principles behind the agency would include open and transparent processes, protection of public health and clear and consistent action.

"The Food Standards Agency must act - and be seen to act - in the interests of consumers. That is why I want the workings of the agency to be open and clear, with action and advice based on sound science and risk analysis."

He said that it was necessary for the agency to adopt an integrated approach to food issues: "The agency should reflect the variety of interests involved in food but remain independent of sectoral interests. Its proposed commission will not be made up of self-interested delegates pursuing their own agendas, but skilled advisors who reflect the range of issues involved - health, food producers, enforcement bodies and scientists - and can deliver positive action together.

"Good health is a basic right of every citizen, and the protection of public health by means of good food is a fundamental duty of every government," he added. "It is an integral part of the government's crusade for preventative measures to combat ill-health."