The FSA under Sir John Krebs has done its best to limit and even undermine GM food labelling. Now a parliamentary committee, in a wide ranging critique of the agency and its failure to champion the interests of the consumer, has called on the FSA to make sure that labelling clarifies whether or not food contains GM ingredients.
Food Standards Agency must do more to protect public health
London Susan Mayor
British Medical Journal
BMJ 2003;327:1308 (6 December), doi:10.1136/bmj.327.7427.1308-c
The Food Standards Agency should be more active in initiatives to protect public health and consumers' interests in relation to food, a parliamentary audit of its work said this week.
The audit by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts-a group of members of parliament that scrutinises use of public funds-recommended that the agency should take a stronger stance as "the champion of the consumer."
The agency was set up as an independent body operating "at arm's length from ministers" and is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food.
The audit noted: "The Agency has not yet demonstrated convincingly that it is able to lead on issues of food safety and standards." It said that the agency should take a higher profile in the enforcement by local authorities of standards on food hygiene in catering outlets and should develop measures to improve hand washing by people working in catering.
The agency should take a more proactive approach in improving public education on nutrition, the report said. It acknowledged that the agency does publish general advice on its website (www.foodstandards.gov.uk) about eating more healthily.
"But in view of its strategic objective to improve diet and nutrition in the UK, the Agency should clearly define how it will do so," the committee suggested.
In particular the report recommended that the agency launch a programme of consultations with food manufacturers, to get them to focus more on nutritional and health aspects in promoting food products to children.
The report cited the labelling of food as a major issue of importance to consumers on which the agency should show measurable progress. Labelling should clarify the nutritional content of food and should also make it clear whether or not the food contains genetically modified ingredients.
"The Agency could use its powers to make the public aware of manufacturers whose labelling is misleading or inaccurate," the committee said.
Protecting Public Health and Consumer Interests in Relation to Food: The Food Standards Agency is available in the Committees section at www.parliament.uk