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Why the FSA should be left alone: the agency is gaining trust, and integrated advice on food makes sense.

The first [pounds sterling]6.2bn has been sliced off the state bill. Now it's phoney war time, awaiting the June 22 budget.

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The Food Standards Agency's fate will be a test case. Before the election, the Tories said they'd cut it back to a safety role, moving the rest to a new public health body.

In 1996 when food safety scandals rocked the government, I co-wrote reports exploring what to do about the failing government policy architecture. A food agency was one option. Another was radically reforming the existing ministry. Our main argument (I was sceptical initally) was that if you take bits of the state out of existing ministries (agriculture, health) to create a new body, new complexity rather than simplicity might follow.

Labour in opposition didn't like these reservations about whether an agency was the right route. Political leaders made it clear: don't you realise, the FSA's job is to put clear blue water between politicians and responsibility when things go wrong. After fights, the new FSA was given a health remit wider than safety. It's this breadth some siren food industry voices oppose. Let me argue why they are wrong.

Firstly, don't shoot the messenger. Created in 2000, the FSA is only just getting into its stride. Its public trust ratings rise steadily. It might face tricky situations, but better that than food scandals again.

Secondly, consumers don't eat under separate categories: nutrition, safety, environment. It's all food. That's why integrated advice makes sense. Far from narrowing its remit, the FSA needs better liaison with environmental science to help create a 'one-stop shop' for sustainable diets.

Thirdly, the FSA's breadth is in the industry's long-term interest. Even the mighty US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta now advises policymakers on issues such as obesity.

Fourthly, the FSA has hugely improved open policymaking. The Board and Expert Advisory Committees meet in public, contributing transparency and accountability.

Finally, far from marginalising the public health role, Professor Erik Millstone of Sussex University recently suggested the Minister of Public Health ought to be an ex-officio board member, to extend open and accountable decisions and links with the DH. He's right. Beware the fiscal deficit being an excuse forbad governance.

Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University
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Title Annotation:SECOND OPINION
Author:Lang, Tim
Publication:Grocer
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 5, 2010
Words:383
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