2000: New Labour created a non-ministerial government department – the Food Standards Agency (FSA)
After the collapse in public trust triggered by a number of high-profile outbreaks and deaths from food borne illness including the BSE crisis, civil servants within the then Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries were perceived as having put the interests of producers ahead of those of consumers.
It was felt that it was inappropriate – and dangerous – to have one government department responsible for both the health of the farming and food processing industries and also food safety.
But in the period 2000-2010, the agency lost it’s way, embarking on major investigative projects requiring increasing numbers of staff running head on into controversy about the health claims of organic food and even the role of GM foods whilst being heavily criticised for expensive and questionable research and fruitless public consultation exercises.
It tried to be open to scrutiny with “open board meetings” available for public viewing on the web and even award-winning health advertising campaigns had a short lifespan, with budgets axed.
Ultimately, it was the FSA’s difficult relationship with the powerful food industry which undermined its effectiveness and claims of independence, after manufacturers successfully lobbied in Europe bringing to an end to its attempt to secure a universal system of “traffic light labelling” for food and drink products.
11 Jul 2010: Victory for Food Manufacturers – Food Standards Agency Abolished By Tory Health Secretary
The Food Standards Agency has been abolished by Andrew Lansley, (1) the Health Secretary, after the standards watchdog fought a running battle with industry and the EU over the introduction of colour-coded “traffic light” warnings for groceries, TV dinners and snacks.
The move sparked accusations that the government had “caved in to big business”.
As part of the changes the Tory Minister Lansley reassigned the FSA’s regulatory aspects – including safety and hygiene – to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Its responsibilities for nutrition, diet and public health were incorporated into the Department of Health.
Labour’s then health spokesman, said: “Getting rid of the FSA is the latest in a number of worrying steps that show Andrew Lansley caving in to the food industry.
It does raise the question whether the health secretary wants to protect the public health or promote food companies.” (The Independent)
(1). Lansley provoked controversy in 2010 by factoring into public health related bills, representations from fast food companies such as McDonald’s, KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo on obesity, diet-related disease and alcohol, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry.
It later transpired that until December 2009, Lansley had received £134 an hour from a firm of advertisers that represented clients such as Walkers Crisps, McDonald’s, Unilever, Mars and Pizza Hut;
Private Eye suggested a link between these activities and Lansley’s desire to see a more lightly regulated food industry.
The same publication suggested a similar link to a Department of Health report on red meat in which the only products listed in the report found to contain suitable amounts of red meat to merit a “Good” rating were a McDonald’s Big Mac, and a Peperami (manufactured by Unilever). (Wikipedia)
9 Apr 2014: Salt levels in many foods ‘unnecessarily high’
Many grocery items such as sandwiches, smoked fish and ready meals were found to contain at least a third of an adult’s daily allowance of salt.
A study of 50 products from major supermarkets also found that other items such as soups, meat, salads and “little snacks” contained more than a quarter of the six grams of salt that is the Government’s recommended daily limit.
Some supermarket pizzas contained almost half the daily allowance of salt recommended for adults while snacks contained almost a third,
Experts said that the salt levels in many of the foods were “unnecessarily high”, and called for manufacturers to urgently reduce the amounts to help “save lives”.
They warned that there was a “wealth of evidence” linking high salt intake to raised blood pressure increasing the risk of heart disease and strokes. (The Telegraph)
But the UK public had been told difficulties such as over – salting produce had been resolved in 2000!!
Sadly this was not the case. Successive Tory, Labour and Con/Dem Westminster politicians got huge donations from wealthy individuals in return for honours.
Big business got its reward in the form of contracts, lax government regulation and, most importantly, governments that implemented a pro-big business agenda, ideologically insistent on privatisation, cuts and anti-working class measures.
David John Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, served as the Chair of Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain from 1992 to 1997.
He was made a life peer in 1997, and sat in the House of Lords as a member of the Labour Party.
He served in the government as the Minister for Science and Innovation from 1998 and 2006 and gifted Tony Blair’s New Labour Party a vast amount of money over the period 1996-2006 (£15m).
What did he get in return? A peerage and the post in government as Minister of Science were just two rewards of note.
Elected in 1997 the Blair government continually backed down on attempts to protect the health of the UK population by regulating the food industry.
In 2006 the nation witnessed yet another government climbdown on a solemn promise to force food manufacturers to cut salt levels in our food.
The plan was to reduce personal daily intake by 10gm to 6gm over the period ending in 2010.
Responding to pressure from the food manufacturing industry the daily target was revised upwards by the government to 8gm, where it remained at March 2015.
According to health experts, an extra 126,000 UK citizens died in the period 2006-2015 as a direct result of the revised policy .
Unsurprisingly the Food & Drink Federation representing Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets greatly welcomed the relaxed targets.
Companies such as, Somerfield, Safeway, Waitrose and Tesco also donated money to Blair and New Labour.
So it is not only over Iraq and Afghanistan that Blair and New Labour have “blood on their hands”.
2015: Food Standards Scotland Act 2015
In terms of food standard controls the UK, was to be returned to before the year 2000.
All measures considered necessary and put in place as a result of recurring failures by the food industry to ensure the safety of the public were to be set aside and replaced with the original inadequate control systems.
Supermarket profits were under pressure, for many reasons and this brought with it an ever increasing need to reduce manufacturing costs, placing food standards at risk.
A number of unacceptable incidences were exposed, horse meat sold as beef and unacceptable levels of Campylobacter in chickens caused public concern.
The Scottish SNP government, responding to public pressure was of the view that existing arrangements introduced by the Tory government were unacceptable to Scottish consumers and, following a period of intense discussion gained approval of Westminster to set up a food standard monitoring body which would report to the Scottish parliament.
The Food (Scotland) Bill set up a stand-alone food safety, standards and nutrition body in Scotland.
The Bill received Royal Assent from Her Majesty the Queen on 13th Jan 2015 creating the Food (Scotland) Act 2015 paving the way for Food Standards Scotland to operate as a legal body.
Food Standards Scotland, a non-ministerial government department of the Scottish Government became operational from 1 April 2015.
It took over all of the responsibilities of the former UK-wide organisation responsible for food safety, food standards, nutrition, food labelling and meat inspection in Scotland. (Wikipedia)
05 Dec 2016: UK pushes ahead with sugar tax
Excess consumption of sugar was officially linked to several health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
Consumption of sugar imposes health costs on individuals (lower life expectancy) and the rest of society (higher health care costs + lower productivity).
A tax on sugar will discourage consumption and raise tax revenue to fund improved health care.
Yet, critics argued that it would be a regressive tax taking more from those on low incomes.
The Tory government delayed on a decision but eventually it was forced by public pressure to act.
Draft legislation was put in place introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks from April 2018.
Two bands are proposed – one for soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml and a higher one for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.
Many companies have already begun cutting the amount of sugar in their drinks.
Pure fruit juices will be exempt – but health officials stress people should limit consumption of these beverages to no more than 150ml per day.
Likewise, sugary milkshake and yogurt drinks will also be excluded.
Ministers were concerned that teenagers, particularly girls, were not getting enough calcium and so taxing these drinks might be counterproductive.
The government has said it expects the levy to raise £520m in the first year.
The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the levy could add 18p to 24p to the price of a litre of fizzy drink if the full cost is passed on to the consumer.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health representative said: “We are very pleased to see government moving forward with this draft legislation.
The sugary drinks that will be affected by this tax have no nutritional benefit and often contain levels of sugar that are above a child’s daily recommended limit.
These drinks are a major contributor to the high sugar intakes of children, particularly teenagers, and we are in no doubt that they are, in part, contributing to this country’s obesity crisis.”
Sugar in fizzy drinks. 35g
The amount of sugar in a 330ml can of Coca-Cola (7 teaspoons). 30g
The recommended max. intake of sugar per day for those aged 11+. 30g
Cancer Research UK estimates a 20% tax on sugary drinks could prevent 3.7 million cases of obesity over the next decade.
24 Aug 2017: Tesco named as supermarket at centre of hepatitis scare
Tesco has been named as the supermarket chain which may have infected people with hepatitis E from contaminated pork.
Public Health England confirmed that the UK’s biggest retailer was the supermarket identified in a study as the potential source of the virus in the UK.
Hepatitis E, or HEV, (1) is thought to have entered the country in pork imports from the Netherlands and Germany.
British pigs are not infected with the G3-2 strain of the hepatitis E which is thought to be behind most infections. (The Independent)
(1). Tens of thousands of Britons are being infected with a ‘potentially deadly liver virus’ in pork products, mostly imported from Europe.
According to the reports, the strain of hepatitis E, linked to pig farms in France, Holland, Germany and Denmark, is infecting more than 60,000 people in Britain a year.
While most cases are not serious, figures from Public Health England (PHE) show an increase in serious illnesses, from 368 in 2010 to 1,244 in 2016.
Transplant patients and pregnant women are considered especially at risk.
Dr Harry Dalton, a gastroenterologist at Exeter University said:
“I call it the Brexit virus, It attacks the liver and nerves. It is particularly dangerous for people with suppressed immune systems such as those who have had organ transplants and possibly cancer. ”
The reports also quoted a study showing the virus had spread to more than 90% of British pigs.
They also referred to research suggesting 10% of sausages could be affected.
In the UK, sausages with the “Red Tractor” logo are not permitted to include liver or offal, reducing the risk of contamination compared with countries where liver and blood sausages are popular.
The National Pig Association (NPA) issued a statement: “Research at Public Health England has shown that the subgroup of hepatitis E causing the majority of human infection in the UK is not the same as the subgroup found in UK pigs.
“The NPA agrees with the conclusion of the researchers that if people in this country have contracted hepatitis E virus from eating pork, it is likely to have come from imported pork, rather than British pork.
Further research and surveillance is required to determine the true cause of the rise in hepatitis E cases in the UK.
“NPA recommends that consumers follow the advice from the Food Standards Agency that pork and sausages should be cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout, with no pink or red in the centre, to greatly reduce the risk of infection.” (pig-world.co.uk)
30 Sep 2017: 2SFG – owned by food tycoon Ranjit Boparan – the largest supplier of poultry meat to United Kingdom supermarkets has been accused of altering sell by dates.
United Kingdom supermarkets have been forced to launch investigations into their chicken supply chain after undercover footage emerged that allegedly showed workers at its West Bromwich site dropping chicken on the floor before returning it to the production line.
The footage also showed workers repackaging mixed meat of different ages and changing source codes on crates of meat that had been returned to the factory by supermarket distribution centres, returning chicken to the production line that had been dropped on the floor, and altering records of where and when chickens were slaughtered.
It also emerged that packs of Tesco’ s “Willow Farm” fresh chicken were bulked up with unsold chicken returned by Lidl.
Food Standards Agency (England) announced it had launched an investigation into the claims, which include older birds being dumped in with fresh stock but given the same sell-by dates.
2 Oct 2017: Foreign sugar company sponsors Conservative conference
The Conservative Party has come under fire from angry farmers on social media after allowing a major US sugar company to sponsor its conference in Manchester.
US sugar company Tate & Lyle Sugars, a major exporter to the UK, is sponsoring the Conservative Party Conference, held in Manchester from 1 October to 4 October.2017.
Lincolnshire grower Andrew Ward said: “Disgraceful. Conservatives sponsored at conference by Tate & Lyle, who provide foreign cane Sugar. So much for supporting British agriculture.”
Naomi Langford-Wood tweeted: “Back British sugar. No choice. Tate & Lyle is imported.”
The gaffe means that the Conservatives are advertising a brand which is a major competitor to British Sugar.
It comes just days after Defra Secretary Michael Gove and Tory MP Robert Jenrick recently visited the British Sugar factory at Newark to mark the end of the EU sugar quotas. Jenwick said the visit was made to “start a bright new future”.
The National Farmers’ Union even set up a ‘sensory farm’ inside the conference, which includes the “pledge apple tree”, where delegates can hang a paper apple on the prop to pledge their support for British farming.
On the weekend, NFU President Meurig Raymond said the Conference will give the union the “perfect opportunity” to speak to thousands of delegates about the British farming industry.
But today, NFU Vice President said: “Early off to Manchester to help man NFU stand. First job, change the lanyard on the pass. You won’t build a country on imports.”
1 Oct 2017: Loss of Control of Scottish food standards – Post Brexit
The UK Government’s intention is that all powers that are currently exercised at EU level will, at least initially, transfer from Brussels to Westminster.
This includes powers in fields that are otherwise devolved to Scotland, Wales and/or Northern Ireland, such as the environment, agriculture and fisheries.
This has prompted accusations by the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers that the Bill is a “naked power grab”.
That dispute essentially concerns the interpretation of the devolution settlement.
The devolved administrations look at policy areas that are currently devolved and take the view that all ‘repatriated’ powers in those areas should be exercisable by the relevant devolved institution, and that to do otherwise would be to place restrictions on the current devolution settlement.
By contrast, the UK Government looks at the current responsibilities of the devolved institutions, as limited by EU law, and takes the view that there will be no reduction in the power of the devolved bodies if those issues currently dealt with by the EU are handled at UK level instead.
The Bill as currently drafted takes the latter approach, proposing to amend the Scotland Act 1998 (the 1998 Act) so that the Scottish Parliament, rather than being unable to legislate in a manner that is incompatible with EU law, will instead be forbidden from modifying “retained EU law”.
The UK Government would expect the effect of this to be maintenance of the existing limits on the devolved institutions’ competence, by denying them the ability to depart from retained EU law (including UK and devolved legislation) even in subject areas that are not expressly reserved to Westminster.
Interestingly, “retained EU law” is defined to include not just EU-derived law as it stands on exit day, but also that body of law as it is “added to or otherwise modified by or under this Act or other domestic law from time to time”.
The UK Parliament or Government will be able to alter retained EU law in future, with the law as amended remaining outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Essentially, the effect will be to ensure that things that are currently outside the competence of the devolved institutions because of EU law constraints will remain outside their competence, without the Bill taking the potentially more controversial step of expressly changing the list of reserved matters set out in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998.
The UK Government has nevertheless stated that it expects there to be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved institutions over time, though the Bill is silent on when and how a further devolution of ‘repatriated’ powers will take place, or which powers will be repatriated.
The UK Government paper on Brexit and devolution does, however, say that decision-making powers returning from the EU should be allocated within the UK “in a way that works – ensuring that no new barriers to living and doing business within the UK are created” (concerns have also been expressed by Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, that powers should not be devolved in a way that would hamper the UK’s ability to enter into trade agreements). (1)
Subject to that overarching principle, the UK Government envisages “intensive discussion and consultation” with devolved authorities on where lasting common frameworks are or are not needed. Full article here: (http://www.brodies.com/binformed/legal-updates/the-european-union-withdrawal-bill-the-impact-on-scotland)
(1). Consumer protection laws and enforcement to be transferred to Westminster to ensure prevention of any barriers to UK trade.
This will include replacing Food Standards (Scotland) (FSS) which was put in place in 2015 to ensure that information and advice on food safety and standards, nutrition and labelling is independent, consistent, evidence-based and consumer-focused.
With its primary concern being consumer protection the agency is tasked with making sure that food is safe to eat, ensuring consumers know what they are eating and improving nutrition.
With that in mind, its vision is to deliver a food and drink environment in Scotland that benefits, protects and is trusted by consumers.
FSS develops policies, provides policy advice to others, is a trusted source of advice for consumers and protects consumers through delivery of a robust regulatory and enforcement strategy.
FSS was established by the Food (Scotland) Act 2015 as a non-ministerial office, part of the Scottish Administration, alongside, but separate from, the Scottish Government. (http://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/)