Few in hospitality would mourn the FSA

16 July 2010 by
Few in hospitality would mourn the FSA

As Caterer and Hotelkeeper went to press this week, the latest news items on the Food Standards Agency's website bore the headlines, "Bakers' salt in bread calculator is launched" and "FSA commissions campylobacter research".

Clearly, the agency's staff hadn't cottoned on to the emerging news of its own demise that was circulating widely on the internet.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is thought to be planning to reassign the agency's responsibilities to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health, as part of the coalition Government's cost-cutting agenda.

Few in the hospitality industry would shed tears for the FSA. No one would argue in principle with the value of an independent watchdog to monitor food safety and hygiene and public health.

But the quango, which employs 2,000 staff and enjoys an annual budget of £135m, has too often ignored the views of the hospitality industry to deserve either its confidence or its sympathy.

Its preference for a six-tier "scores on the doors" rating scheme for food hygiene inspections over a simpler "pass" or "fail" approach is viewed by industry as an overly complex bureaucratic burden.

And its attempts to encourage caterers to introduce calorie-counted menus have had independent operators worried that the agency planned to make such a scheme compulsory - with all the ensuing investment in time and cost.

Opportunity to find workable solutions

Should the FSA indeed be broken up and its responsibilities shared around Whitehall departments, this would represent an excellent opportunity for those who inherit them to wipe clean the slate, ask stakeholders around the industry for workable solutions to issues surrounding food provision, and frame regulation accordingly.

Given Deputy Prime Minister Clegg's fondness for consultative Government, what could be more sensible?

Mark Lewis, Editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper

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