DNA testing on meat

The FSA has set out an action plan on how it will tackle future food scares

The Food Standards Agency is to set up a new intelligence hub to ensure it is better equipped in future to spot issues such as ‘horsegate’ in their embryonic stages.

The hub is one of several key proposals published today in an FSA action plan in response to Professor Pat Troop’s review of the agency’s handling of the horsemeat scandal.

The hub will be established by December this year and would “expand and improve FSA capability to identify, and then take action to mitigate specific threats that emerge from an expert analysis of all available sources of intelligence”, the FSA said in its plan.

In her review, presented to the FSA last month, Troop made four recommendations on how the FSA could improve its response to such incidents in future. They include:

  • The need for improved intelligence sharing and analysis;
  • The need for the FSA to strengthen its major incident plan;
  • Improved clarity of the role of government departments in large complex incidents;
  • A review of the FSA’s powers and the use of framework agreements and codes of conduct.

To meet Troop’s recommendation of improved intelligence sharing and analysis, the FSA said it would learn from the police’s approach to the analysis and use of information. It would also set up a ‘safe space’ by December, to which businesses could submit results of their own testing data and intelligence “and receive in return a sifted digest with some value-adding analysis”. The FSA would also support the EC in establishing a food fraud unit.

The FSA has pledged to develop a major incident plan in consultation with stakeholders, which it intends to be ready for discussion by the FSA Board in September.

To clarify the roles of government departments, the FSA said it was already supporting Defra in developing its authenticity steering group and engaging with Professor Chris Elliot’s independent review into the UK’s food supply chain, which was announced in June.

The agency will review its powers, given in the Foods Standards Act 1999 and elsewhere, by December. It will also develop a strategy for using “public interest reports” to deliver “reputational sanctions” and consider using it as appropriate with regards to food businesses implicated in the horsemeat incident, the agency said.  

The action plan will be put to the FSA Board on Tuesday (16 July).