I am glad to see more public debate about the decision to cut back the Food Standards Agency, kicked off by Tim Lang’s column in the Guardian.
The facts are simple.
- Ten years ago, trust in food in the UK was the lowest in Europe (post foot and mouth and BSE).
- Many of us campaigned for a regulator that could take on vested interests and we got it in the new FSA – with John Krebs, the scientist, and Deirdre Hutton, the consumer champion.
- Today, trust in food in the UK is among the highest across Europe.
Where now? What the FSA could not do is to match the corporate behemoths of Tesco and food companies. On consumer signposting (‘traffic lights’ and Guideline Daily Amounts), for example, the Co-operative and Sainsburys were on the side of the angels and the regulator, but labelling is essentially an EU competence not UK, and the food industry saw it off.
No-one likes too much red tape, least of all ordinary citizens. I have argued before that regulators sometimes operate like great monopolies and sometimes like handmaidens for big business. But some rules help to make markets work. Confidence in food is good for consumers and it is good for the market.
Let’s see where the facts go now…