Well I didn’t expect that. It was a solid kick-off and things were going well after the first half, but it wasn’t exactly edge of your seat stuff. Until we got closer to the whistle and BOOM. Bombshell.
And no, I’m not talking about Colombia’s equaliser in last night’s World Cup game against England.
I’m talking about the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee’s roundtable session on food safety risk management post-Brexit, which took place in Westminster today.
The discussion – over whether the FSA should be given the power to make risk management decisions on food safety after the UK leaves Europe – was not hugely controversial. On the whole the panel – which included Helen Munday of the FDF and Sue Davies of Which? – seemed to agree the FSA should indeed get those powers, enabling it to duplicate the EU’s existing system in the UK and ensure food safety was not compromised after Brexit.
Things got a bit more exciting when Professor Erik Millstone questioned whether the FSA was indeed totally independent of ministerial influence, but FSA chair Heather Hancock and ex-FSA CEO Tim Smith were quick to offer assurances they’d never once had an approach by a minister that would influence the direction they were going to take.
Former FSA chair Lord Jeff Rooker also stringently denied Millstone’s assertion, insisting Defra and health ministers have always played by the book. And then he said this:
“The ministers that worry me are trade. I am reliably informed earlier this week at the Food and Drink Sector Council that Liam Fox said to the rest of the industry ‘Well, you’ve got to buy from abroad; there won’t be any food manufacturing industry left after Brexit.’”
Yep, bombshell. Although – just as with Yerry Mina’s second-half header – it wasn’t quite the game changer it first appeared to be.
As the Department for Trade was very keen to point out, Liam Fox said no such thing. And I have indeed been reliably informed by a source that Fox did not suggest the UK’s food and drink industry would be decimated after Brexit unless companies start buying cheap ingredients from China.
However, he evidently said something at the meeting that got people’s backs up – even if Rooker ultimately got the wrong end of the stick about what he meant. As it was a private meeting, however, it is unclear precisely what was said.
Which ultimately reinforces the argument for giving the FSA powers to make decisions on risk management decisions. It wants to replicate the EU system by creating a new advisory committee that would make most of the decisions itself, but hand those with broader implications to the health minister, along with formal risk management recommendations, to have the final say.
All this means decisions on food safety risks would be science-based and – importantly – completely transparent. Which sounds like a far more sensible solution than the alternative, which would be to hand everything over to a bunch of politicians behind closed doors.