I was closeted last week at an inter-governmental meeting on food safety. It was intense. Much talk was of agencies and of their different approaches, experiences and successes. Food agencies are seen by some as the answer to everything. There was much off-the-record debate about the proposed European Food Authority. The European Commission is committed to launching EFA in 2002. But why have one? There are arguments for and against. The main argument "for" is better use of resources. Small countries cannot match the big budgets for monitoring or research wielded by larger ones. EFA could help co-ordinate intelligence, science and enforcement. A more contentious "pro" is that EFA can harmonise standards, but up or down? Some argue only an EFA can be a consumer champion across the EU-wide structure of the food supply chain. Even big countries such as Germany or the UK lack state machinery with long enough tentacles. EFA will give the EU punch like the FDA gives the US, they say. And what of the arguments against? Agencies are a fashion, convenient for politicians to distance themselves from a crisis. EFA's 44.4m euro budget is tiny; what will it be able to do in practice? It cannot be a final EU food court of arbitration. A big worry is that EFA might be perceived as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy, unable to affect outcomes for consumers, complicating communication and liaison. EFA suits big rather than small food companies. What's needed is not EFA but sub-national/regional infrastructure to improve local support systems. EFA might be based in Barcelona, Lille, Helsinki or Parma. Wonderful cities, but are they close enough to Brussels to forge links with the Commission and policy-makers? Many doubt it. {{NEWS }}