Industry vital to food safety

Whatever happens in September’s independence referendum Scotland will have a new body tasked with ensuring the safety of the country’s food.

Colette Backwell

THE Food (Scotland) Bill, which will set up Scotland’s own food safety and standards body, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), has started its passage through the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) is one of a number of bodies that has given evidence to the Health and Sport Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the bill.
Scrutiny of the bill is essential so that the outcome creates an effective regulatory system that provides for consistent and proportionate regulation and enforcement – the best working environment for economic sustainable growth.
A successful food and drink industry is a vital component of a healthy Scottish economy. In Scotland the food and drink manufacturing industry employs around 50,000 people and generated sales of £9.25bn and exports worth £5.4bn in 2012. It is important to remember that the industry works across UK boundaries. Scottish-based companies sell the majority of their products in the UK. Other companies, including global manufacturers, sell their products in Scotland. Consistency and appropriate links with the UK are therefore paramount.
It is crucial that Food Standards Scotland has access to scientific advice in order to have robust peer-reviewed evidence on which to base its decisions. Appropriate arrangements should be made to ensure that the current mechanisms used by the Food Standards Agency in Scotland (FSAS) continue.
There should be the necessary structures to provide a consistent, proportionate approach to enforcement and regulation across the UK. Such structures are imperative to allow for timely informed responses to issues. In addition, it is important that the governance of the new body allows it to also focus on ensuring consistency of regulation and enforcement across different local authorities.
The majority of food legislation originates and is negotiated at European level and clear and efficient mechanisms are needed to ensure that the Scottish voice is taken into account.
The FSS must be independent and have credibility with all stakeholders in order to build and retain consumer confidence and, thus, the industry’s reputation. The make-up of the board is crucial for ensuring independence. There should be members with appropriate knowledge of all stakeholders, including industry and a full declaration of all interests.
The Scottish Food and Drink Federation, on behalf of food and drink manufacturers, has enjoyed an effective partnership with FSAS and looks forward to continuing this with the new FSS.