Two prominent professors have hit back at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) after its chair branded their warning about the privatisation of food safety controls ‘nonsense’.
In a recent paper, Profs Erik Millstone and Tim Lang criticised FSA reform proposals to outsource food safety inspections and audits to the private sector, claiming they would result in the deterioration of standards in the UK.
Responding to the academics at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event last week, FSA chair Heather Hancock said: “I have quite a lot of nonsense talked about these reforms.
“The worst is the assertion we are privatising regulation or allowing self-regulation.
“That could not be further from the truth. We want businesses to stand up to their legal obligation of providing safe food.
“We want them to share the evidence they are doing this; evidence which has to be reliable, robust and trustworthy.
“By doing that, we can much more effectively identify risks to public health and public trust.
“I have also heard we are cutting local authorities out of the system, and again, that is absolute nonsense.
“I cannot imagine a food regulation system which does not have local authorities at its heart.”
After being made aware of Ms Hancock’s remarks, the professors hit back, saying the FSA had ‘attributed to us claims we did not make’.
Rather than claiming food businesses would ‘mark their own homework’, the academics’ report explains the FSA proposals would force companies to pay commercial organisations to ‘mark their homework for them’.
The professors also denied saying local authorities would be ‘cut out’ of the system, acknowledging they would continue to play a key – albeit diminished – role.
They said: “Local authorities must be provided with sufficient resources to conduct sufficient unannounced inspections and audits to prevent food safety standards from falling to unacceptable levels.
“Leaving under-resourced local authorities to cope with all of the challenges they currently face, plus receiving skip-fulls of data, the completeness and reliability of which they cannot afford to check, is not a recipe for maintaining, let alone raising, food safety standards.”