SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Regulating Our Future: the way forward or a blind alley?

A public debate has erupted between Professors Erik Millstone and Tim Lang of (City University, London) on the one hand and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on the other.  The debate focuses on the substance and implications of a set of proposals from the FSA, published in 2017, for a shift of responsibilities for food law enforcement that emerged in an FSA document entitled Regulating Our Future (ROF). In early March 2018 Millstone & Lang published a Brexit Policy Briefing paper under the auspices of The Food Research Collaboration, which provided an analysis and critique of the FSA’s ROF proposals, and a set of counter-proposals (Brexit and food standards could get even worse). They argued that the FSA’s plan for an increasing reliance on private sector food safety inspection and audit service providers, and a diminished role for local authority enforcement officers, would result in a deterioration in food safety standards in the UK. The Briefing Paper explained why that was a probable outcome.

Through several channels senior FSA officials and Board Members have contested Millstone and Lang’s interpretation of the FSA plans.  Millstone and Lang say that the FSA has misrepresented their position, and even attributed to them claims that they had explicitly repudiated, but more importantly failed to engage with the detailed substance of the arguments that the Briefing Paper provided. 

Professors Millstone & Lang have, on 1st May 2018, responded to the FSA, once again on the website of the Food Research Collaboration.  Their contention is that the FSA needs to engage with the substance of the analysis, critique and recommendations they provided in March, and the refinements to their critique that their latest document provides. 

Millstone and Lang’s core concern is that the FSA’s proposals will result in the deterioration of food safety standards in the UK. They argue that local authorities must be provided with sufficient resources to conduct sufficient unannounced inspections and audits to prevent food safety standards from falling to unacceptable levels.  Leaving under-resourced local authorities to cope with all of the challenges they currently face, plus receiving skip-fulls of data, the completeness and reliability of which they cannot afford to check, is not a recipe for maintaining, let alone raising, food safety standards.

It remains to be seen when, how and where the FSA responds to the re-statement of a set of challenges that were evidently unwelcome in the first place. The option of meeting and talking has been mentioned in email exchanges, but the FSA has not yet indicated a place, date or time.  This may be a space worth watching.