Scottish independence has been heavily debated recently, but regardless of how that turns out, I’d like to see Scotland stay united with the rest of the UK when it comes to regulating food.
The Scudamore review was published last week on what should happen to the Food Standards Agency in Scotland. It suggested that Scotland needs its own separate food agency.
I was on the panel that carried out the review and disagreed with the other four members. Why? With so many important issues to deal with when it comes to food policy, I think it would be a step backwards to dismantle the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in this way.
The Scottish difference
Scotland does have some specific issues. It has the worst obesity rates in the UK (although all four countries are bad) and some types of food poisoning are more prevalent – most notably, the particularly dangerous E coli.
But is setting up a separate Scottish food agency really going to be the best way to deal with this? Scottish independence aside, our food not only comes from all around the world, but most of the legislation and policy that controls it is also now decided at an EU or international level.
Food production is a complex business with complex supply chains and production methods. Keeping on top of food safety therefore relies on sharing intelligence and pooling resources, not dispersing them more widely.
What should a food agency do?
The review in Scotland came about because of changes made to the FSA by the government in England. It’s all a bit messy now with the FSA focusing mainly on food safety in England, while it still looks at food labelling and safety in Wales. As for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the FSA covers food safety, labelling and nutrition.
But the FSA is governed by an independent board that operates UK-wide. Scottish consumers need to rely on the FSA to help reduce obesity and diet-related disease and deal with issues that are a greater priority in Scotland than the rest of the UK.
The panel agreed that it is essential that the public is put first and that any new agency in Scotland operates openly, transparently and independently. However, in my view, we’ve just spent the last 12 years developing this type of approach through the FSA.
Enhancing the existing agency, while ensuring that its office in Scotland is sufficiently resourced to tackle the issues that are unique to Scotland, is surely a better way forward – isn’t it?