Food Standards Agency to be abolished

July 13, 2010

According to Reuters, the British coalition government will abolish its food watchdog, set up to protect consumers after the “mad cow” disease crisis, and reassign its duties elsewhere, a government source said on July 11.

The cost-saving move will fulfill a pre-election pledge by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to strip the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of its responsibilities for nutrition and diet advice. But it is likely to fuel criticism that Lansley is bowing to the food industry, which has opposed the agency’s approach of using “traffic light” colors for food labeling.

The agency, which employs 2,000 staff and spends £135 million ($205 million) a year, is also in charge of safety and hygiene in the food chain and those duties will be devolved to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, in power since May, is looking for deep cuts across the government to reduce a budget deficit of £156 billion, although it has promised to protect health spending.

The FSA was founded by the Labour government in 2000 in the aftermath of the crisis that rocked Britain’s beef industry and damaged the public’s confidence in food safety.

Lansley has been critical of the agency's promotion of traffic-light food labeling to tackle rising levels of obesity, saying its approach was counter-productive.

The opposition Labour party says Lansley is caving into pressure from the food industry that opposes the red-amber-green labels that show the relative amounts of salt, sugar, and fats.

Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco Plc has resisted the program although it has been adopted by some high-street rivals, including J Sainsbury Plc and Marks and Spencer Group PLC. In June, the European Parliament rejected the mandatory use of traffic-light food labeling while insisting that nutritional content should be clearly shown.

Reuters article