Heather Hancock

Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA

Food Standards Agency chair Heather Hancock has accused critics of its Regulating our Future (ROF) programme of “talking nonsense” about the proposals.

The FSA is pushing ahead with controversial plans which include a much greater use of industry data and using third-party auditing for its flagship Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

“I’ve heard some nonsense talked about our reforms,” Hancock told the Westminster Forum in London. “The worst is the assertion that we are ‘privatising’ regulation, or allowing self-regulation,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. We want businesses to stand up more to their legal obligation to provide safe, honest food. We want them to share the evidence that they do so, evidence that is reliable and robust and trustworthy.

“By doing this, we can much more effectively identify risks to public health and public trust. And then we can focus our and local authorities’ resources on getting those risky businesses to do the right thing, or using our enforcement powers to punish them for doing the wrong thing.”

The FSA boss also refuted suggestions the move would cut local authorities out of the loop, despite the proposals being motivated in part because of major cutbacks to council budgets and staffing.

“I cannot imagine a food regulation system without LAs at the heart,” she said. “There’s a critical role for LAs in assurance, and they’ll retain responsibility for enforcement of food safety and food standards regulation legislation.”

Last month, leading food safety experts urged the government to scrap the FSA’s plans, warning they were a threat to public health.

A report by the Food Research Collaboration also warned ROF would cause crippling damage to UK food exports after Brexit.

The report, by professors Erik Millstone at the University of Sussex and Tim Lang at City University in London, attacked the FSA for pressing ahead with the reforms, despite the impact of Brexit and a recent series of food safety scandals.