Publication - Research and analysis

A Healthier Scotland: Creating a New Food Body: Consultation Analysis - Research Findings

Published: 21 Aug 2013
Part of:
Research
ISBN:
9781782568278

Summary of the key findings from the analysis of the written responses to the Scottish Government consultation on the role and remit of the proposed new food body.

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Contents
A Healthier Scotland: Creating a New Food Body: Consultation Analysis - Research Findings
Main Findings

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256.0 kB

Following the UK Government's 2010 decision to move responsibility for nutrition and food labelling and standards from the independent Food Standards Agency (FSA) to the Department of Health and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, respectively, Scottish Ministers asked Professor Jim Scudamore to assess the feasibility of establishing a stand-alone Scottish FSA. The Scudamore report recommended that a single, independent public body be created, at arm's-length from the Scottish Government, with clear responsibility for all aspects of food safety and standards. The Scottish Government accepted this recommendation but wished to hear the views of consumer and industry stakeholders on the remit and role of the proposed new food body. It published a consultation paper on 28 February 2013 seeking views on what the new food body should do and how food safety and standards should be addressed in Scotland in the future. One hundred and twenty six responses to the consultation were submitted.

Main Findings

  • Most (63%) of those who provided a view considered that the scope of the new food body should extend beyond that of the current scope of the FSA in Scotland.
  • A common view was that the Scottish Government and the new food body should continue with the same working arrangements as currently operating between the Scottish Government and the FSA in relation to diet and nutrition.
  • The majority (70%) view was in favour of the new food body using the scientific advisory committees already in operation in order to access independent expert advice. A common perception was that expertise also exists in Scotland, for example in academic institutions and research bodies and the new food body should make links with relevant organisations.
  • There were mixed views on whether the new food body would require any further statutory powers in addition to those the FSA already possesses. Whilst local authorities featured prominently amongst the 45% of those advocating expanding the current statutory powers, industry representative bodies featured strongly amongst the 23% who disagreed, arguing instead for more effective application of existing powers.
  • With respect to the delivery of official food and feed controls, a recurring view was that the existing partnership between local authorities and the FSA works well and should provide the building block upon which to develop the partnership between local authorities and the new food body.
  • There was much support and respect for the work previously undertaken by the FSA in engaging with consumers, with requests that this work be continued by the new food body.
  • There was widespread agreement that the new food body should retain independence from the Scottish Government, primarily in order to boost consumer confidence and trust in the body. There were mixed views, however, on the degree to which the new food body should remain independent from the food industry and on the nature of the relationship between them.

Background

In 2010 the UK Government moved responsibility for nutrition and food labelling and standards in England away from the independent Food Standards Agency (FSA) to the Department of Health and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), respectively. Following this decision, Scottish Ministers asked Professor Jim Scudamore to undertake a review to assess the feasibility of establishing a stand-alone Scottish FSA (FSAS) which included a Scottish meat inspection delivery body and which maintained the existing statutory objective of the FSA, to protect consumers. The Scudamore report recommended that a single, independent public body be created, at arm's-length from the Scottish Government, with clear responsibility for all aspects of food safety and standards.

Scottish Ministers accepted all of the Scudamore report1 recommendations, and the Scottish Government wished to hear the views of consumers and industry stakeholders on the remit and role of the proposed new food body. To this end, it published a written consultation paper2 on 23 February 2013, posing 16 open questions aimed at generating views on what the new food body should do and how food safety and standards should be addressed in Scotland in the future.

Overview of respondents

One hundred and twenty six responses to the consultation were submitted: 93% of these were from organisations, and 7% from individuals. The largest category of respondent was local authorities, comprising 19% of all respondents. Other categories of respondent were: public bodies; industry representative bodies; professional associations and unions; third sector; academic/research bodies; individual businesses; and consumer representative bodies.

Scope of the new food body

Most (63%) of those who provided a view considered that the scope of the new food body should extend beyond the current scope of the FSAS, with a common view being that it should encompass all aspects of food "from farm to fork". However, a minority (29%) of respondents recommended waiting at least until the new food body has been established before considering extensions to its scope.

Of the broad areas for extension of scope suggested by respondents, the most frequently suggested was food poverty. Other frequently mentioned areas were provenance; food security; alcohol; tackling obesity; sustainability and environment considerations; and education.

Roles and responsibilities

A common view was that the Scottish Government and the new food body should continue with the same working arrangements as currently operating between the Scottish Government and the FSA in relation to diet and nutrition.

Dominant themes were that clarity over respective roles is very important, and final arrangements should be publicised widely across industry and NHS boards and to the public. Another recurring comment was that the independence of the new food body, and its intention to operate in an open and transparent manner, should be made clear.

An area most commonly identified for expansion by the new food body was working in partnership with a broad range of relevant bodies and sectors, with the food industry and NHS Health Scotland and health boards highlighted in particular. Another common recommendation was for the new food body to expand its education function to deliver consistent, evidence-based messages on diet and nutrition, largely in schools, further and higher education establishments.

Science and evidence

Most (70%) of those who provided a view on possible steps which the new food body could take to access the best available independent expert advice, recommended that it secure access to the scientific advisory committees already operating.

It was commonly perceived that independent expert advice exists within Scotland with reference made to academic institutions and research bodies, Scottish Government departments, the wider scientific community, public analyst services, NHS Health Scotland and regional health boards, and local groups and committees.

A recurring view was that the new food body should make links to relevant international organisations to ensure further access to independent expert advice, largely in recognition of the global nature of the food industry.

In considering whether the new food body should focus its research and surveillance activities on issues particularly pertinent to Scottish citizens or on wider issues of relevance to the UK as a whole, the overarching view was that such a division is artificial with the issues overlapping. However, a significant body of view supported stronger emphasis on issues pertinent to Scottish citizens if resources for these activities are limited.

Of the respondents who provided a view, 49% considered that the new food body should be responsible for the coordination of all Scottish Government funded research on food safety and public health nutrition; a further 19% supported the new food body coordinating research on food safety but recommended its working in partnership with the NHS, Scottish Government and local authorities on public health nutrition research; and 17% were opposed to the new food body taking on such responsibilities, suggesting that these functions required expertise which the new food body may not have.

An overarching theme was that independence of evidence and approach to gathering evidence will be vital for building trust in the new food body. A common view was to further the evidence base by enhancing and building upon existing networks, notably those already forged with the Scottish Food Enforcement Liaison Committee (SFELC) and local authority food liaison groups. Other common recommendations were for national data sets such as the UK Food Surveillance System (FSS) to continue; and for liaison to be maintained with external expert establishments such as academic institutions, professional societies and public bodies both in the UK and further afield.

Regulation policy, enforcement and monitoring

There were mixed views on whether the new food body would require any further statutory powers in addition to those the FSA already possesses. Whilst local authorities featured prominently amongst the 45% of those advocating expanding the current statutory powers, industry representative bodies featured strongly amongst the 23% who disagreed, arguing instead for more effective application of existing powers.

Common views on dealing with contraventions of food standards and safety law were that more enforcement options would be helpful to bridge the perceived gap between informal response and formal reports of alleged breaches to the Procurator Fiscal; and that enforcement options should be implemented promptly, robustly and consistently.

A prominent theme amongst local authorities was that they currently provide an effective and efficient enforcement regime, aspects of which may be best left to local delivery. A common view was that wholesale transfer of official food controls from local authority delivery to the new food body could have a detrimental effect on the viability of the environmental health service in Scotland.

Consideration of delivery of official food and feed controls

A common cross-sector view was that the existing partnership between local authorities and the FSA works well and should provide the building block on which to develop the partnership between local authorities and the new food body.

Concerns were raised over whether a single, centralised enforcement body may result in loss of local knowledge, expertise and good practice. The idea was floated by a small number of respondents that flexibility could be built into the legislation to allow for transfer of enforcement responsibility between local authorities and the new food body, where both parties agree that official controls at a particular establishment, or class of establishments, would be better delivered by one or other body, according to local needs and circumstances.

Audit

A common view was that robust audit processes will be pivotal to the successful assurance of official controls under the new food body, with much support expressed for the new food body to prepare a Scottish Framework Agreement, similar to that which already exists and which is binding on organisations delivering official controls. Fourteen respondents considered that there may be benefit in establishing Service Level Agreements between the new food body and local authorities to ensure official controls will be delivered adequately and consistently across Scotland.

Relationships with other organisations

There was much support for the existing partnerships established by the FSA to be adopted and built upon by the new food body. It was commonly agreed that an effective relationship between the new body and the UK FSA will be very important.

Although support was given to promoting effective working relationships between the new food body and industry partners, this was tempered by caution from some that the new body should remain independent in its decision-making and not be unduly influenced by industry representatives.

Recommendations were made for additional relationships with the education sector, national advisory groups, third sector organisations, consumers, NHS regional boards, retailers and non-Government departments.

Consumer engagement

There was much support and respect for the work previously undertaken by the FSA in engaging with consumers, with requests that this work be continued by the new food body.

A recurring view was that consumers should be represented on the new food body's advisory committees and dialogue with the SFELC, which includes consumer interests, should continue.

It was commonly thought that the new food body should liaise with those organisations who already have experience of engaging with the public in order to reach this audience. Another common recommendation was for the frameworks for consumer engagement already established by local authorities and territorial health boards to be harnessed and utilised by the new food body.

Independence from the Government and food industry

There was widespread agreement amongst respondents that the new food body should retain independence from the Scottish Government, primarily in order to boost consumer confidence and trust in the body, and also to deliver the Government's aim to protect health.

There were mixed views on the extent to which the new food body should remain independent from the food industry and how this should be interpreted. Whilst it was generally acknowledged that the new body should retain independence of decision-making, respondents from a range of sectors emphasised that that it will still be beneficial to involve industry in the development of policy and enforcement regimes.

Further comments

Repeated requests were made for clarity over the relationship between the new food body and the UK authority as the sole central competent authority. Queries were raised over how the new food body will operate when negotiations at EU level are with the UK Government. Caution was expressed over Scotland becoming isolated from other jurisdictions, for example, by making recommendations to introduce laws which do not apply in the remainder of the UK

This document, along with full research report of the project, and further information about social and policy research commissioned and published on behalf of the Scottish Government, can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch. If you have any further queries about social research, please contact us at socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or on 0131-244 2111.


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