As one who is interested in food - or, perhaps more precisely, in
eating - I tend to read all sorts of stuff about it. So I have naturally
read the executive summary of the report by Professor Phil James on the
proposed Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Paragraph 2 contains this amazing statement: ’Many national surveys
reveal that the public has lost confidence in the safety of British
food’. Research also shows that the public regularly lies through its
teeth as, for example, when questioned on whether it would willingly pay
more taxes for better public services. If the Prime Minister believed it
would, he would never have committed himself to stick with Tory levels
of direct taxes and spending for two years.
If we have lost confidence in British food why has our diet never been
so varied? Why, if we are frightened to open our mouths do we eat and
drink our way through the day - and leave the country littered with the
remains? Why, if confidence is so low, are our High Streets one long
parade of restaurants and fast food outlets? And why, if sitting down to
a meal is such a trauma, have we never eaten out as much?
Professor James’ report is clearly built on a pile of self-serving
This could raise serious doubts about his concept of an FSA. I can,
however, see the point of a food agency on the lines of the Health and
Safety Executive, divorced from the Ministry of Agriculture and
Fisheries which has always been too producer-oriented for my liking. But
there is no need to overstate the case with nonsense about lost
confidence in British food. After all, life expectancy rises every
But what concerns me most about an FSA, which Labour is pledged to
introduce, is the possibility that it will be hijacked by the food
faddists. Professor James says public and consumer interests should be
in the majority on its controlling Commission. Already, the National
Food Alliance, an umbrella body of some 50 pressure groups of
unquantified support but, of course, claiming to represent the consumer,
has been at it.
In a recent broadcast, Geoffrey Cannon, chairman of the NFA was
enthusiastic about the sort of agency proposed by Professor James. But
he claimed that a ’rump’ of food manufacturers - and especially of sugar
- would try to sabotage his report. In other words, the food faddists
are on the march.
We shall hear a lot more from them as they seek to impose, through the
eventual FSA, their prejudices and costs through unnecessary regulations
upon the consumer they claim to represent.
I wish all those PR companies representing manufacturers and real
consumers a successful campaign against the fanatics.