|Non-ministerial government department overview|
|Formed||1 April 2000|
|Jurisdiction||England, Wales and Northern Ireland|
|Annual budget||£159.7 million (2009-2010) |
|Non-ministerial government department executives|
The Food Standards Agency is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is led by a board appointed to act in the public interest. Its headquarters are in London, with offices in York, Birmingham, Wales and Northern Ireland. The agency had a national office in Scotland until the formation of Food Standards Scotland in April 2015.
The Agency was created in 2001 based on a report by Professor James, issued after several high-profile outbreaks and deaths from foodborne illness. It was felt that it was inappropriate to have one government department, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, responsible for both the health of the farming and food processing industries and for food safety.
Uniquely for a UK Government department, the Food Standards Act gave the Agency the statutory right to publish the advice it gives to Ministers - and as a signal of its independence it declared that it would invariably do so. From its inception, the Agency declared that it would take no decisions about food policy except in open Board meetings accessible to the public. Since 2003, these meetings have been webcast live, enabling consumers to see the decision-making process in action. Each Board meeting concludes with a question and answer session in which web viewers can question the Board or its Executive directly.
In 2006, the Wine Standards Board merged with the FSA to take over responsibility for enforcing the EU wine regime in the UK.
Formerly an executive agency of the FSA, the Meat Hygiene Service merged with the FSA in April 2010 to form a new operations group. The operations group has responsibility for the delivery of official controls.
Certain aspects of United Kingdom food labelling regulations in England were transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 1 September 2010. In England, the Agency retains responsibility for food safety-related labelling issues, whereas the devolved Food Standards Agency offices in Wales and Northern Ireland are still responsible for all labelling and standards policy.
Nutrition policy, including nutrition labelling, in England and Wales was transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department of Health and Social Care in England and to the Welsh Government's Department of Health and Social Services on 1 October 2010. The Food Standards Agency offices in Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained their responsibilities for nutrition policy.
Plans to create a new food standards body in Scotland were announced by Ministers in June 2012 and in January 2015 this new body was established through primary legislation. Food Standards Scotland took over from the FSA on 1 April 2015 as the public body responsible for food safety, food standards, nutrition, food labelling and meat inspection in Scotland.
Sir John Krebs was the first Chair of the Food Standards Agency, until 2005. Dame Deirdre Hutton was Chair between 2005 and July 2009, followed by Jeff Rooker until July 2013. Tim Bennett, the former Deputy Chair, was appointed as interim Chair whilst a permanent appointment was made. Heather Hancock was appointed the new Chair on 1 April 2016, for a three-year term, and reappointed for a further three year term from 1 April 2019. 
The Agency is advised by a number of independent expert committees, including: the Science Council, the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, the Committee on Toxicity, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes and the Advisory Committee on Social Sciences.
On 31 March 2006, it published its "Survey of benzene levels in soft drinks", which tested 150 products and found that four contained benzene levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water. The Agency asked for these to be removed from sale.
The FSA pushed for stricter rules on TV advertising to children of foods high in salt, sugar and fat and devised a nutritional profiling system to measure the balance of benefit and detriment in individual food products. In 2007, the UK TV regulator Ofcom introduced restrictions on advertising of products that scored poorly under the scheme.
In June 2002, and re-released in June 2006, the FSA conducted an advertising campaign on British television, highlighting the danger of food poisoning caused by barbecues. The advert, intended to shock viewers, shows sausages sizzling on a barbecue, looking to the viewer as if they are cooked. However, when a pair of tongs pick up one of these sausages, it falls apart, and reveals pink, uncooked meat in the middle. To emphasize the risk of diarrhoea and vomiting caused by food poisoning, the song "When Will I See You Again" by The Three Degrees is played in the background.
My overwhelming impression, having undertaken this Review, is of an organisation that has been extremely conscious of the importance of fulfilling the very serious responsibilities of changing both the perception and the reality of food safety in the UK.
It has done well in taking forward the experiences, good and bad, of the previous regime, to begin building its own reputation.
Most stakeholders agreed that the Agency has made significant progress towards improving food safety, gaining public confidence in food safety, and creating a modern culture in which it is the norm for procedures, information, consultation and decision-making to be in the public domain and to involve external stakeholders.
There was overwhelming support for the Agency's policy of basing decisions on scientific evidence, and for this policy to be maintained and developed further. The vast majority of stakeholders believe the Agency to be independent and to act independently, with general recognition that decisions are based on scientific evidence.
There was general support for the Agency amongst all stakeholder groups, both in terms of the objectives of the Agency, and the way in which the Agency has approached and undertaken its responsibilities.
One principal criticism, identified in the report, was (Recommendation 20):
It is clear that many stakeholders believe the Agency has already made policy decisions on GM foods and organic foods and is not open to further debate. The Agency must address the perceptions of these stakeholders who have now formed views of the Agency founded on their belief that the basis upon which the Agency's policy decisions were made was flawed.
A food hygiene rating scheme has been deployed by the Food Standards Agency for all food businesses. Ratings are available at the business premises and online. Following a meeting in Cardiff, the FSA plans to make audit reports as widely available as possible for the public. According to Terence Collins, FSA's Director of communication, the reason behind this decision is to make ratings simple and easily understood for every single business.
Apart from Scotland which is under a very simple Food Hygiene Information Scheme, the FSA's Food Hygiene Rating Scheme will be tested throughout United Kingdom. As a result, ratings will range from 0 (improvement urgently needed) to 5 (very good), and may be displayed on a certificate. This information will also be made available online. Rating primary meat processing plants is the next step forward for the FSA, as meat audit are currently only available through Freedom of Information requests.