Food Standards Agency boss invites meat industry anger

Meat processing leaders have hit out at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) boss Tim Smith, accusing him of “scaremongering” and “demonising” the industry following an interview on BBC Radio 4.

Speaking on the You and Yours programme, Smith, when asked a question about third-party inspection of the meat industry, said: “Well, would consumers… would your listeners want third parties to be doing something as important as this?… Essentially what regulators do is protect consumers and there is no real market in that regulatory framework. It would worry some of us at the agency if we had to effectively outsource that to somebody else. If I’m thinking about my family when I’m eating out and when I’m buying meat in supermarkets, I’d rather it was somebody who was being paid for… to do the job and regulated properly by a government body.”

His comments have caused anger, with some accusing him of suggesting the meat industry could not be trusted. British Meat Processors Association director Stephen Rossides, who was interviewed on Radio 4 after Smith, said on air: “I was sorry to hear Tim scaremongering, effectively, actually scaring people...”

In a later statement, Rossides added: “I am surprised and very disappointed that Tim Smith chose to resort to scaremongering by deploying the ‘the meat industry cannot be trusted’ card. This is not worthy of Tim, and deeply insulting to the great majority of businesses that operate to the highest standards. Tim must know we are not suggesting a completely deregulated or self-regulating inspection system. The FSA will always have to perform an audit role. And, in any case, the FSA already uses contractors to carry out inspections on its behalf. So why rule out a system using FSA-approved third-party inspectors, with the Agency as the ultimate auditor?”

Norman Bagley, policy director at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), said: “It now appears that FSA board policy and its chief executive’s public pronouncements come from a different planet. Whatever happened to food business operators being responsible for food safety and competent authorities being responsible for auditing operators’ controls? Demonising the industry and scaremongering consumers — is that the new role of the chief executive of the FSA?”

He said Smith’s comments suggested he was against the long-term objectives agreed by the FSA board that food business operators took greater responsibility for daily inspection tasks.

However, a spokesman for the FSA dismissed that claim: “Tim Smith’s comments, as expressed on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, are consistent with the FSA board’s position on future charging for meat controls, on which the agency is currently consulting. In his interview, Tim responded to a suggestion from the interviewer about putting ‘the whole thing out to tender’. There was no intention of scaremongering in Tim’s response. He was making the point that the public would expect the FSA, as the government’s food safety regulator and the body charged with protecting public health in regards to food, to safeguard the consumer.

“The comments made on You and Yours were intended to highlight the importance of the FSA remaining the competent authority, and did not speculate on who should carry out front-line inspection duties. It is disappointing that industry groups have deliberately tried to attach misleading significance to these overarching comments.”

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