A Labour government would strengthen the Food Standards Agency so it can “start doing its job properly again”, Ed Miliband has vowed. Yet despite branding them “reckless”, Labour would not undo the government changes that saw the FSA lose responsibility for key food policy areas in 2010, the Labour leader revealed in an exclusive Q&A with The Grocer.
Labour would look at how best to strengthen the FSA, “though at the moment we’re not planning to restore its pre-2010 structure,” he said. “But we will make sure the agency has the capacity to improve safety and tackle unhealthy practices. We can’t go through something like the horsemeat scandal again.”
Miliband’s assertion comes despite Labour shadow ministers voicing serious misgivings about the changes to the FSA’s remit brought in by the coalition. During the horsemeat scandal in 2013, then shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh claimed the coalition’s “reckless” decision to fragment responsibility for food policy across the FSA, Defra and the Department of Health had made the UK less capable of dealing with major food incidents.
One industry source said Labour would be wise to spend some time “assessing the situation”. “From an industry perspective, the most important thing is to have regulators - whether as the FSA or part of another department - that are effective and not a burden on responsible food producers,” he added. “Even if the FSA survives, they’re going to be pressed to cut costs, and that’s where industry can help. Partnership is our watchword.”