/ Food & Drink, Health

Scottish independence? Not when it comes to food regulation

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?

Jenny says:
11 April 2012

FSA came out of BSE fiasco. MAFF failed because the expert scientific advice given to Ministers was wrong, If the FSA had been in existence then would the Board really have taken a different decision to a Minister? Given that much of policy is as you say driven by EU, and hygiene standards are the remit of local authorities, quite rightly, perhaps now is the time to save some money and revert all issues back to DEFRA and DH where they should sit. Government is more open and transparent now than it was at time of BSE. The FSA board is independent, but who is it accountable to? I

I disagree about this government or any government being truely open about
any subject that they don’t really want the public to know about, why else do
they usually slip out the “bad” news via their “spin doctors” whenever there’s a major story breaking

I agree with Sue. There is no need to treat Scotland differently with regard to food regulation, and it would be a waste of money.

Phil says:
12 April 2012

All very true but no doubt it’s the direction the SNP will want to go purely for political reasons.

Why is that doing what could be in the best intrests of the health and wellbeing of All the
people of Scotland being political?

Phil says:
13 April 2012

Because, if you read the report, it may not be in the best way to protect the health and wellbeing of all the people of Scotland. I’m not talking about post-independence.

Sophie Gilbert says:
13 April 2012

What does independence mean? I don’t expect an answer in this convo! But if Scotland becomes independent, it will become a different country altogether, won’t it, in the same way as France is a different country, Sweden etc? If so, will the FSA be allowed to operate in it anymore than it is currently allowed to operate in, say, France? Unless it is hired by Scotland as a contractor? Or unless there are several degrees of independence? If so, what are they?

Otherwise, yes, if/when we become independent, why reinvent the wheel in Scotland if we don’t have to? If the FSA is effective and cheap enough, if we may use it, and if we don’t come up with something better, let’s stick with it.

Maybe when Scotland is Independent with their own FSA then we will get rid of the nonsense whereas food produced/slaughterd etc anywhere in the world can be labeled as UK as it has been
packaged in the UK

Phil says:
13 April 2012

Most food labelling is policed by DEFRA, not FSA, and the rules set by the EU.

Anyway legislation to close the loophole you describe was passed last June with member states having three years in which to comply so you won’t have to wait for independence.


Thanks for pointing that out and correcting my ignorance. It’s long overdue as consumers have
been led up the garden path for too long

Phil says:
14 April 2012

I quite agree, it was long overdue.