Kerry McCarthy

Kerry McCarthy

Cuts to the FSA’s budget could “come at a significant human cost and prove to be a false economy”, Labour shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy has warned.

Chancellor George Osborne’s spending review, published last week, confirmed the FSA faced funding cuts, with its budget frozen at £85.4m a year until 2020, equating to a real terms cut of £6m (or 7%) to its front-line delivery and administration budget by the end of the current parliament.

The cuts meant the agency faced “extremely challenging” conditions over the next four-and-a-half years, an FSA spokesman said, while McCarthy warned the latest round of cuts raised “real doubts” over the FSA’s future capabilities.

“The FSA’s budget took a big hit during the last parliament and the decision to split its responsibilities undermined its ability to protect the consumer,” she said. “It now seems that the FSA has been targeted again.”

McCarthy accused the government of being “either worryingly complacent or trying to hide the real impact of the budget cuts” by referring to them only once in the spending review document, and said the importance of the FSA and its Food Crime Unit should not be underestimated.

Although the FSA has refused to comment on where it will make savings, board members and commentators including Professor Chris Elliott have questioned the long-term viability of the National Food Crime Unit without additional funding.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of the FSA and the Food Crime Unit,” said McCarthy. “We need to be able to trust the food we buy, the public needs to know that the FSA is equipped to prevent another horsemeat scandal, and producers and retailers need assurances that they are competing on a level playing field.”