This page records Sustain's recent activities in relation to the Food Standards Agency. The FSA's own website can be seen at: http://www.food.gov.uk/. For enquiries about this material, contact Sustain's coordinator Jeanette Longfield on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We attended the Food Standards Agency Consumer Stakeholder meeting on 17 November, largely to determine whether, in the light of the Agency’s shrunken remit, it would be worthwhile to continue attending these twice yearly events. Although there were some handy snippets of information, it is unlikely that future agendas will have items of sufficient interest to Sustain. We will, however, maintain a watching brief.
The coalition government is restricting the FSA’s remit to food safety, and moving nutrition back into the Department of Health. This would almost certainly put paid to the FSA’s excellent work on traffic light labelling and salt reduction, and to its support for controls on junk food advertising to children. It would probably also delay or kill off any possibility of integrating sustainability into government food policy and practice. It is not yet clear the extent to which Sustain could – or should – mobilise its membership and networks to prevent this happening.
Sustain attended a meeting on 5th March to discuss progress with the Integrated Advice to Consumers (IAC) project. This is the process to implement the Cabinet Office recommendation (in Food Matters) of becoming a “one stop shop” of information for citizens interested in all aspects of food. These should include all aspects of food and sustainable development, alongside food safety and nutrition.
The meeting was postive, with Sustain being part of an informal group of organisations that has been seeking clarity from a range of government departments and agencies on their policy on meat and dairy production and consumption. We will take up this issue again after the election.
The Food Standards Agency's policy on fish – which remains to advise consumers to eat a least two portions a week – continues to be both disappointing and frustrating. Following our joint submission with a number of organisations last March to their consultation, and the publication of their – in essence – unchanged advice to consumers, in autumn, an even larger number of organisations wrote again to the FSA in November. We will continue to pursue the issue of sustainable fish via a range of other Sustain projects and campaigns.
On antimicrobial resistance, we made contact with the relevant officials in the FSA who confessed that there would be yet more delay in developing a strategy to deal with the problem.
Equally depressing is the FSA’s continuing inability to do anything about the calamitous decline in the number of Public Analysts (who are a corner stone of food law enforcement) – apart from have meetings to discuss the problem.
Sustain had a positive meeting with the new Chair, Lord Rooker, on 20th August. Sustain also provided a supportive quote for the latest stage of the FSA’s salt campaign, launched on 5th October. We remain, however, deeply concerned about the Agency’s apparent inability to integrate sustainable development into its routine policy processes. We are likely, for example, to write to the FSA again – with a number of organisations – to challenge their supposedly “new” advice on fish consumption. (See Spring 2009 for our original letter.)
We have also written to the FSA about their proposal to develop a strategy on antimicrobial resistance. This follows a meeting on the subject held on 29 November 2007, the notes of which were only released on 17 August 2009!
Sustain continues to attend FSA consultation meetings on a range of issues. We have pressed them on how quickly they are adopting the recommendation in Food Matters (see Summer 2008) to integrate sustainability into their work, initially on fish consumption. Jeanette also went to a meeting on 18 May, with a small delegation of supportive organisations, to discuss the FSA's disappointing consultation which was supposed to integrate sustainable development into advice on fish consumption (see Spring 2009). While the officials were sympathetic to our views, no firm commitments were made.
Sustain responded, robustly, to the FSA's consultation on its advice on fish consumption. We argued that, as the consultation failed to include any options that integrated sustainable development into the Agency's policy, it should be reissued with at least one more option that does include sustainable development. We are delighted that a number of organisations endorsed Sustain's response, based on our previous report on fish. Several other organisations also submitted comments along similar lines.
Sustain continued to attend a number of FSA meetings, on a range of issues, including on food labelling and general consumer issues.
The “gang of four” (Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth, Sustain and the Vegetarian Society) have continued our series of meetings with the FSA to explore how they can incorporate sustainable development into their work, specifically advising people to eat fewer, but higher quality meat and dairy products. We had a positive meeting on 2 October with those responsible for the Agency's forthcoming campaign to encourage people to eat less fat and saturated fat. Although sustainable development will not feature at the start of the three year campaign, we have been assured that it will be included in future.
Cabinet Office review of food policy
The long-awaited Cabinet Office food policy review, Food Matters, was published in July, and is reported in more detail on a separate page. Among other things, the report calls for the FSA to see sustainability as a core part of its remit, echoing a call that Sustain has made for many years.
The FSA and sustainable development
In May, Sustain submitted a response to the Food Standards Agency's consultation on its approach to sustainable development in policy-making. Sustain argued that the remit of the FSA is to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. Fundamental to the interests of the consumer in relation to food is the sustainability of the food system, in which the three elements of sustainable development – economic, environmental and social – are intextricably intertwined. It is neither possible nor desirable to deal with them separately (download response as a 160kb PDF).
Sustainable consumption of meat
On 9 June Jeanette, alongside representatives Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth, and the Vegetarian Society, had her first meeting with the Agency’s new Chief Executive, Tim Smith. We aimed to pursue our longstanding correspondence with the Agency about how best to exploit the synergies between food safety, nutrition and sustainable development by tackling over-consumption of unsustainably produced meat and dairy produce. The meeting was positive and friendly though, predictably, lacking in any policy commitments.
Consumer Stakeholder Meeting
Tim was similarly positive at his first Consumer Stakeholder meeting on 16 June though, again, it is too soon to say if his approach will manifest in any change of FSA policy and practice. There has already been one early indication that, unfortunately, it may make no difference. On 15 July the FSA arranged a “stakeholders” meeting to discuss progress on its forthcoming public campaign (modelled on the salt reduction campaign) to reduce fat and saturated fat in people’s diets. Despite assurances at a previous meeting (prompted by Jeanette’s questioning) that sustainable development would be incorporated into this new work, Jeanette pointed out that it has clearly not been.
Officials present offered a meeting to discuss this and, in the light of the Cabinet Office recommendation to the FSA on sustainable development, we shall pursue this energetically.
Sustain submitted a response to the FSA consultation on the EU’s draft labelling directive. We are calling for individual Member States to have the right to introduce compulsory national nutrition schemes (such as traffic light labelling). See also our separate page on food labelling for sustainability.
Sustain has received an invitation to meet the Agency’s new Chief Executive, Tim Smith, whose career has been spent in the dairy industry with companies such as Arla Foods. We wrote in January seeking a meeting – with co-signatories Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth, and the Vegetarian Society – to pursue the synergies to be exploited between food safety, nutrition and sustainable development by tackling over-consumption of unsustainably produced meat and dairy produce. The meeting is scheduled for 9 June.
There have been very positive developments with the FSA and food additives, which are noted in the Children’s Food Campaign report, and the long-awaited consultation on sustainable fish consumption has been announced (see our pages on sustainable fish policy and campaign developments). Finally, Sustain will respond to the latest in a long series of consultations by the Agency on the continuing development of its policy on sustainable development, before the 3 June deadline.
Controlling misuse of marketing terms
Sustain policy director Kath Dalmeny continues to work with a number of organisations to maintain the pressure on the Food Standards Agency and other regulatory bodies to tackle the misuse of sustainability terms in food marketing – specifically ‘seasonal’, ‘local’ and ‘farmers’ market’. See Sustain's report Ethical Hijack . Sustain will also be responding, before the beginning of May closing date, to the FSA consultation on the EU proposal for a new regulation on the provision of food information to consumers.
Traffic light labelling
Sustain's Children's Food Campaign has been busy scrutinising the European Commission’s proposals on food labelling. It is currently legally uncertain whether the proposed rules will allow the Food Standards Agency to make compulsory the clear and effective traffic light labelling scheme.
It is clear that, following the Agency’s Board meeting in early April, the food additives implicated in hyperactivity in children (by the FSA-funded research done by Southampton University) will now be voluntary phased out by the food industry by the end of 2008. The Agency will also work with the European Food Safety Authority to seek an EU-wide ban on these substances. This is a tremendous victory for organisations protecting children’s health, including the Children’s Food Campaign, and we will aim to build on this success to remove other, similarly harmful substances from children’s diets.
Antibiotics in livestock production
Sustain coordinator Jeanette Longfield attended a Food Standards Agency (FSA) meeting, in November, on the risks to human health from the routine use of antibiotics in industrialised animal farming. Although the link to antibiotic resistance in humans (which is now critically endangering medical treatment) was made in a government report as long ago as 1962, the problem continues to worsen, in the face of more than 45 years of government inaction.
Consumer Stakeholder Meeting
Jeanette also attended the last Consumer Stakeholder Meeting, in December, with the FSA’s Chief Executive, John Harwood. The next meeting, in early June, should be with the Agency’s new Chief Executive, Tim Smith, whose career has been spent in the dairy industry with companies such as Arla Foods. It will be interesting to see if the combination of this new appointment, plus proposals to slightly revamp the meeting focus, will make the events any more fruitful than they have been to date.
FSA and sustainability
At a day-long FSA event in December, Jeanette was invited to make a presentation on sustainable development and how the Agency might approach it. The meeting was well-attended by Agency Board members, senior staff and others but it is clear that the FSA continues to find it extremely difficult to accept the concept that the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development are intertwined and, therefore, indivisible. The Agency thus continues to propose focusing mainly on one aspect of the social element – health – while “taking account of” the others.
Nonetheless, Sustain will continue to make the case for an integrated approach to sustainable development and is pursuing correspondence, with both the Chair and the Chief Executive designate on issues such as sustainable consumption of fish, meat and dairy products, and integrating sustainability into guidance to public and private sector caterers.
Following publication of long-awaited research into the effects of problem food additives on young children, the FSA has at last published advice to parents stating that such additives should be avoided, especially if children already show signs of hyperactivity.