The Government says that the agency will be retained, but will only have “a renewed focus on food safety.” Instead, the Department of Health (DH) will become responsible for nutrition policy in England, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will become responsible for Country of Origin Labelling, and various other non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies in England.
In a statement, the government says: “Reorganising in this way will contribute to the Government’s objectives to improve efficiency, and is paramount to the key priority of improving the health of the nation by creating a public health service. To achieve this coherence, some policy-based functions can be brought ’in house’ to give a more coordinated approach on health and food issues.”
Lord Rooker, chair of the FSA adds: “The Department of Health will, as a result, be able to press industry to contribute more on improving the health of the nation. This includes reformulation, and provision of nutrition information in supermarkets and restaurants. Approximately 70 policy posts will move to the Department from the FSA.”
However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that expertise must not be lost.Food policy director Andrew Opie says:” How Government chooses to allocate these responsibilities is not the priority. What matters to us is the end result for customers and businesses. Any Government changes must leave us with a structure that does as good a job for customers and businesses as the FSA has done in the past.
“Labelling and food composition are complex, technical issues that are crucial to food retailers. Thousands of the products they sell every day will be affected. Food labelling is a key issue for retailers. Currently, we’re in the middle of a fundamental European labelling review.
“It’s vital the high-level of expertise and collaborative approach that’s previously been available from the FSA is retained once responsibility for these issues has been transferred.
The government says the changes are necessary in order “to create a public health system that truly helps people live longer and healthier lives.”
Health secretary Andrew Lansley, adds: “It’s absolutely crucial for the Food Standards Agency to continue providing independent expert advice to people about food safety. But bringing nutrition policy into the department makes sense. It will enable a clear, consistent public health service to be created, as our Public Health White Paper later this year will set out.”
Last week, industry experts told Marketing Week, marketers should find it easier to promote healthy eating without the interference of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Over the past year, the FSA has said it wants to “amplify and get important health messages out to mass audiences”. However, it has drawn criticism for its stance on issues such as traffic light food labelling and proposed “fat taxes”.
The FSA has also come under fire for pressing for stricter rules on promoting foods high in salt, sugar and fat to children through television.