The Food Standards Agency
is a non-ministerial government department
A non-ministerial government department is a department or ministry of a government that is not headed by a Government Minister or Government Secretary, and answers directly to a legislature ....
of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting public health
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...
in relation to food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals...
throughout the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
and is led by a board appointed to act in the public interest
The public interest refers to the "common well-being" or "general welfare." The public interest is central to policy debates, politics, democracy and the nature of government itself...
. Its headquarters are in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
, opposite Holborn tube station
Holborn is a station of the London Underground in Holborn in London, located at the junction of High Holborn and Kingsway. Situated on the Piccadilly Line and on the Central Line , it is the only station common to the two lines, although the two lines cross each other three times elsewhere...
, with national offices in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...
and Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...
It was created in 2000 based on a report by Professor James, issued after a number of high-profile outbreaks and deaths from foodborne illness. It was felt that it was inappropriate to have one government department, the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, responsible for both the health of the farming and food processing industries and for food safety
Food safety is a scientific discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. This includes a number of routines that should be followed to avoid potentially severe health hazards....
Uniquely for a UK Government department, the Food Standards Act gave the Agency the statutory right to publish the advice it gives to Ministers - and as a signal of its independence it declared that it would invariably do so. From its inception the Agency declared that it would take no decisions about food policy
Food policy is an area of public policy concerning the production, distribution, and consumption of food. The policy consists of setting goals for food production, processing, marketing, availability, access, utilization and consumption, and describes the processes for achieving these goals...
except in open Board meetings accessible to the public. Since 2003 these meetings have been webcast live, enabling consumers to see the decision-making process in action. Each Board meeting concludes with a Q&A session in which web viewers can question the Board or its Executive directly.
In 2006, the Wine Standards Board merged with the FSA to take over responsibility for enforcing the EU wine regime in the UK.
Formerly an executive agency of the FSA, the Meat Hygiene Service merged with the FSA in April 2010 to form a new operations group. The operations group has responsibility for the delivery of official controls.
Certain aspects of food labelling policy in England were transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 1 September 2010. In England, the Agency retains responsibility for food safety-related labelling issues, whereas the devolved Food Standards Agency offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still responsible for all labelling and standards policy.
Nutrition policy, including nutrition labelling, in England and Wales was transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department of Health in England and to the Assembly Government in Wales on 1 October 2010. The Food Standards Agency offices in Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained their responsibilities for nutrition policy.
Sir John Krebs
John Richard Krebs, Baron Krebs FRS is a world leader in zoology and more specifically bird behaviour. He is currently the Principal of Jesus College, Oxford University...
was the first Chair of the Food Standards Agency. He resigned in 2005 to become Principal of Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College is one of the colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street...
. Dame Deirdre Hutton
Dame Deirdre Hutton, CBE became Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority on the 1st August 2009 and was previously Chair of the Food Standards Agency until July 2009. She has served on a number of public bodies and has considerable experience of corporate governance, risk-based regulation and consumer...
was Chair between 2005 and July 2009.
Jeff Rooker is the current Chair of the Food Standards Agency Board. Tim Bennett is the interim Deputy Chair.
The Agency is advised by a number of independent expert committees, including: the General Advisory Committee on Science, the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food
The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food is a statutory committee advising the British government. The ACMSF was set up in 1990 and is attached to the Food Standards Agency. Its quarterly meetings are open to members of the public and are generally held at its headquarters at...
, the Committee on Toxicity, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes and the Social Science Research Committee.
Recalls and Contamination
In February 2005, the agency announced the discovery of the dye
A dye is a colored substance that has an affinity to the substrate to which it is being applied. The dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution, and requires a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber....
Sudan I , is a lysochrome, a diazo-conjugate dye with the chemical formula of 1-phenylazo-2-naphthol. Sudan I is a powdered substance with an orange-red appearance. The additive is mainly used to colour waxes, oils, petrol, solvents and polishes...
in Worcester sauce
Worcestershire sauce , or Worcester sauce is a fermented liquid condiment; primarily used to flavour meat or fish dishes.First made at 60 Broad Street, Worcester, England, by two dispensing chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, the Lea & Perrins brand was commercialised in 1837 and...
, prompting a mass recall of over 400 products that used the sauce as a flavouring.
On 31 March 2006, it published its "Survey of benzene levels in soft drinks", which tested 150 products and found that four contained benzene levels above the World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...
(WHO) guidelines for drinking water. The Agency asked for these to be removed from sale.
The Food Standards Agency also imposed restrictions on the sheep trade because of the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
The FSA pushed for stricter rules on TV advertising to children of foods high in salt, sugar and fat and devised a nutritional profiling system to measure the balance of benefit and detriment in individual food products. In 2007 the UK TV Regulator Ofcom
Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...
introduced restrictions on advertising of products that scored poorly under the scheme.
In June 2002, and re-released in June 2006, the FSA conducted an advertising campaign on British television, highlighting the danger of food poisoning caused by barbecue
Barbecue or barbeque , used chiefly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia is a method and apparatus for cooking meat, poultry and occasionally fish with the heat and hot smoke of a fire, smoking wood, or hot coals of...
s. The advert, intended to shock viewers, shows sausages sizzling on a barbecue, looking to the viewer as if they are cooked. However, when a pair of tongs pick up one of these sausages, it falls apart, and reveals pink, uncooked meat in the middle. To emphasize the risk of diarrhoea and vomiting
Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of the contents of one's stomach through the mouth and sometimes the nose...
caused by food poisoning, the song "When Will I See You Again
"When Will I See You Again" is a song by American soul group The Three Degrees, from their third album The Three Degrees. The song was written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.It was one of the most successful recordings of the "Philly Soul" era...
" by The Three Degrees
The Three Degrees are an American female vocal group. Formed in 1963 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,, the group has always been a trio though there have been a number of personnel changes and a total of fourteen women have represented the group so far. The original members were Fayette Pinkney,...
is played in the background.
In 2005 Brenda Dean carried out an independent review of the Food Standards Agency. The report made 22 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Food Standards Agency board.
Brenda Dean concluded:
'My overwhelming impression, having undertaken this Review, is of an organisation that has been extremely conscious of the importance of fulfilling the very serious responsibilities of changing both the perception and the reality of food safety in the UK.
'It has done well in taking forward the experiences, good and bad, of the previous regime, to begin building its own reputation.
'Most stakeholders agreed that the Agency has made significant progress towards improving food safety, gaining public confidence in food safety, and creating a modern culture in which it is the norm for procedures, information, consultation and decision-making to be in the public domain and to involve external stakeholders.
'There was overwhelming support for the Agency’s policy of basing decisions on scientific evidence, and for this policy to be maintained and developed further. The vast majority of stakeholders believe the Agency to be independent and to act independently, with general recognition that decisions are based on scientific evidence.
'There was general support for the Agency amongst all stakeholder groups, both in terms of the objectives of the Agency, and the way in which the Agency has approached and undertaken its responsibilities.'
One principal criticism, identified in the report, was (Recommendation 20):
- "It is clear that many stakeholders believe the Agency has already made policy decisions on GM foods and organic foods and is not open to further debate. The Agency must address the perceptions of these stakeholders who have now formed views of the Agency founded on their belief that the basis upon which the Agency’s policy decisions were made was flawed."