Board members were also updated on work on a sustainable funding model for meat official controls, and looked in detail at the FSA’s work on nutrition in Northern Ireland.
FSA Director Nina Purcell updated the Board on the progress of the Regulating Our Future programme. The programme is modernising the regulatory system, to respond to changes in the global food system, to be more risk-led, and to achieve better outcomes for consumers.
Commenting during the board debate, FSA Chairman Heather Hancock took the opportunity to rebut any suggestion that the FSA was moving towards a model of self-regulation for UK food businesses. The Board emphasised again that the FSA remained committed to delivering a fundamentally better system that offered agility and confidence as food risks and food businesses changed. Board members urged the executive not to take the foot off the accelerator.
Concluding the discussion on this item the Chairman said: “Our ambition in doing this is not to loosen the reins. This is about our ownership, maintenance and driving forward of food standards and public protection.”
The Board moved on to consider a paper on the FSA’s allergy research programme, drawing attention to the prevalence of food-related allergies and intolerances.
The current research programme, which has had significant global impact and reach, has funded work under a number of key themes, including the development of management thresholds for allergenic foods, exposure to food allergens in early life as well as food allergen labelling and consumer choice.
The Board shared the view that allergens needed more attention and understanding, and this should be developed collaboratively with researchers, specialist charities, consumer groups and health professionals. They agreed that research should be commissioned to understand the prevalence and characteristics of allergy in adults.
The Board agreed that this research would help them to decide future science and policy priorities, and whether these should adjust towards allergy. They recognised that this issue was critical for public trust in food, for preventing illness, and for providing clear and reliable information about food allergies and intolerances.
The Board noted the progress that had been made to date by the Steering Group on Meat Charging and thanked Bill Stow for his work to develop a more sustainable and equitable charging regime over the past three years. The Board also recognised the positive input from the meat industry to this Group, and the progress the Group had made in identifying principles for future charging arrangements.
The Board’s view was that as a principle, future subsidy of the meat industry should not be a policy or an administrative decision for the FSA.
The Board recognised that with both the exit from the EU and the department’s Regulating our Future programme, which would explore modernising official controls for meat, there was a lot of change to come. For that reason, they agreed that the new control regime should be designed before concluding the work on charging future.
The FSA has broader responsibilities in Northern Ireland than it holds in Wales and England, in particular, relating to dietary health in Northern Ireland. The Board discussed their priorities for fulfilling this part of its remit, recognising the scale of cross-departmental working and the importance of collaboration in tackling obesity and providing consumers with the opportunities and support to access a healthier lifestyle. They emphasised that, as well as improving public health in Northern Ireland, there would be learning to share with sister departments in Wales and England, and the work that the Agency was taking forward with SMEs in this area would also give it more insight into effective ways of working with and supporting smaller food businesses.
This was the last Board meeting for former Chair and current Deputy Chair Tim Bennett, as well as Board Members Heather Peck and Jim Smart. The Chairman thanked them for their work on the Board, and the impact their work had made. She also thanked Catherine Brown who was attending her last meeting as Chief Executive.
The papers discussed are available on our website and a video on demand recording of the meeting will be available on the FSA’s website on Friday 17 March.
The next meeting of the FSA Board will be on 21 June 2017, location TBC. You can register to attend in person or online. As places may be limited, please wait until you receive an official confirmation of your registration before making arrangements to attend. If you need help registering, or have any queries, please contact tel: 020 8481 3302.