1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1.1 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 report1 recommended that a single, independent public body be created, at arms length from the Scottish Government, with clear responsibility for all aspects of food safety and standards.
1.2 Scottish Ministers accepted all of the Scudamore report 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 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.
1.3 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.
1.4 A summary of views contained in the consultation responses follows.
Scope of the new food body
1.5 The majority (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". A minority of respondents advocated waiting until the new food body has been established before considering extensions to its scope.
1.6 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
1.7 Annex A of the main consultation paper set out current arrangements existing between the FSA and the Scottish Government in relation to diet and nutrition. Of the respondents who provided a view, 75% considered that the proposed new food body and the Scottish Government should, by and large, continue with these arrangements for independent and partnership work.
1.8 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.
1.9 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.
1.10 Other key areas of potential expansion identified by respondents were research functions and supporting local initiatives (whether strategically or by helping with implementation).
1.11 A minority view was that other bodies already undertake such functions adequately and expansion into these areas by the new food body could cause confusion and inefficiency.
Science and evidence
1.12 The majority (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.
1.13 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.
1.14 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.
1.15 Repeated calls were made for the new food body to be given sufficient funds and powers to commission new research.
1.16 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.
1.17 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.
1.18 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
1.19 There were mixed views on whether the new food body would require any further statutory powers in addition to those the FSA already has. Local authorities featured significantly amongst the 45% of those who provided a view and who considered that the new food body should have further statutory powers; industry representative bodies featured strongly amongst the 23% who did not hold this view.
1.20 Amongst those favouring the extension of the new food body's statutory powers were those supporting the proposals set out in the FSA's consultation on Primary Enabling Legislation3 . Repeated calls were also made for additional powers to impose fixed penalties and other notices particularly for minor, low risk contraventions, as an alternative to reporting such incidents to the Procurator Fiscal.
1.21 A general view amongst many of those opposing additional statutory powers for the new food body was that the current powers are adequate, but they could be applied more effectively, with greater attention given to intelligence gathering and targeted testing.
1.22 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.
1.23 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. It was commonly felt 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
1.24 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.
1.25 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.
1.26 Responding to specific proposals set out in the consultation document regarding the delivery of official food and feed controls, there was majority support for the new food body taking on approval of those food and feed establishments that require approval under EU food hygiene legislation (Regulation (EC) No 853/2004) and all processes for the suspension or withdrawal of those approvals. There was also much support for the proposal that where the new food body is the designated food authority for an approved establishment, it should be responsible for official controls and for all food commodities at the establishment and all official controls including those for food standards.
1.27 All of the 12 respondents who provided a clear view agreed that the new food body should undertake the coordination of export certification and liaison with third countries.
1.28 There were mixed views on the proposal that the new food body undertakes import controls at ports of entry, including local authority controlled Border Inspection Posts and Designated Points of Entry, with concern expressed by some over the impact that removing this function from local authorities would have on what was perceived to be the current holistic nature of environmental health services.
1.29 Majority support amongst those who provided a view was given for other proposals, notably that the new food body undertakes the delivery of all official controls and related monitoring activity during primary production; the delivery of official controls relating to the supply and manufacture of materials and articles in contact with food, food additives and processing aides; responsibility for the recognition of natural mineral water sources; and development of technical and professional training for authorised officers within the new food body or local authorities along with providing specialist advice to local authorities on food science, food technology and veterinary matters.
1.30 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. Many 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.
1.31 Repeated calls were made for the retention or/and enhancement of the current audit arrangements and for the existing Food Law Code of Practice and Practice Guidance to be revised to detail the delivery of official controls.
Relationships with other organisations
1.32 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.
1.33 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.
1.34 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.
1.35 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.
1.36 A recurring view was that consumers should be represented on the new food body's advisory committees and dialogue with SFELC which includes consumer interests should continue.
1.37 It was generally considered that transparency and openness should be priorities for the new body when providing information to consumers.
1.38 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.
1.39 A recurring view was that the new food body could deploy a wide range of research methodologies to seek views of consumers. These included specific techniques such as: focus groups; deliberative engagement; consumer panels; participatory research; and citizen's juries. Several respondents also highlighted social media and a dedicated Food App as having potential for engaging with consumers.
Independence from Government and food industry
1.40 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.
1.41 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.
1.42 Calls were made for the new food body to operate with transparency, being open about decision-making and the underlying rationale for decisions, and publishing the advice it provides to Ministers.
Further comments and suggestions
1.43 The most common additional comment was to request 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.
Email: Karen McCallum-Smith