As U.K. Agency Divides, Food Safety Is Conquered


Ruth L/flickr has done an analysis of who does what under the new U.K. scheme for dividing food responsibilities and taking power away from the pesky Food Standards Agency, which had the nerve to actually try to regulate the food industry.

At a time when it is increasingly obvious that food regulations would be better served if under the authority of a single food agency, the U.K. is doing just the opposite.

Here in America, we have enough problems with food regulations divided between FDA and USDA. The U.K. has done us one better. It now has three agencies in charge. See if you can make sense of any of these new responsibilities:

The Food Standards Agency

    • Scientific advice on the food safety aspects of date marking

    • Assessment and labeling of ingredients/foods with food safety implications (e.g. allergens, glycols, high caffeine, high glycyrrhizinic acid)

    • Food safety aspects of organic food and of foods controlled by compositional standards

    • Treatments and conditions of use with food safety implications (e.g. quick frozen foods, raw drinking milk and pasteurization, food contact materials)

    • GM and novel foods (including use of nanotechnology)

    • EU General Food Law regulation, including traceability of food

    • Codex Committees on Food Hygiene, Methods of Analysis and Sampling, Food Additives, Contaminants in Foods

Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (a mix of our FDA, USDA, and EPA)

    • General lead on food labeling legislation and relevant EU negotiations

    • Lead on the EU Food Information proposal

    • Country-of-origin labeling

    • Food composition standards and labeling such as fruit juice and fruit nectars, jams, and bottled water

    • Technical advice on compositional standards for food without specific legislation, such as soft drinks and cereal products

    • Fish labeling

    • Use of marketing terms, e.g. natural, fresh, clear labeling, vegan and vegetarian labeling

    • Food authenticity program

    • Codex Committees for: Food Labeling, Processed Fruits and Vegetables, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Fats and Oils, Fish and Fishery Products, Europe, General Principles

    • Lead on Codex Alimentarius Commission, General Principles and Coordinating Committee for Europe

Department of Health

    • Nutrition-related aspects of the EU food information regulation

    • Front-of-pack labeling

    • Food for particular nutritional uses (PARNUTS)

    • Infant formula and follow on formula

    • Health and nutrition claims

    • Food supplements

    • Calorie information in catering establishments

    • Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses

This sounds to me like an ironclad guarantee that nothing will ever get accomplished. But that, of course, was the very point of taking so many responsibilities away from the Food Standards Agency. That agency, alas, was actually trying to regulate the food industry, something no conservative government is willing to tolerate.

Let's hope our FDA pays no attention.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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