In response to a series of crises that affected consumer confidence, the UK upgraded the institutional arrangements and processes related to food safety. They launched the Food Standard Agency (FSA) in 2000, an independent agency with the ability to publish and disseminate any information that it issues.
The FSA was created with one important objective: “to put consumers first”. Since then, FSA has worked hard to restore trust and protect public health. Now it attempts to include consumers in the entire policy process: defining priorities, setting standards and choosing the right actions.
The concepts of openness, transparency and public participation are very important elements for FSA and, therefore, contribute to the improvement of credibility and effectiveness of the Risk Management process.
SAFE FOODS literature review revealed that the separation between Risk Assessment and Risk Management needed to be made clearer so that scientific committees did not have to make Risk Management decisions. FSA and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) are in charge of collecting available data from industrial and scientific sources and of conducting an initial Risk Assessment. The FSA and Defra are also responsible for the political and societal evaluation of risks. In addition, both organisations are in charge of making decisions in relation to appropriate Risk Management strategies and the selection of principles, norms, rules, measures and procedures. Findings of surveys on consumer attitudes are also included in the risk evaluation process. Industry and public representatives have the chance to express their interests and concerns in order to influence the evaluation and selection of Risk Management options.
Some inconsistencies have been identified across the UK in levels of monitoring and sampling that have been undertaken. There are wide variations between local authorities when undertaking sampling programmes. FSA has discovered quality and quantity variations of samples.
The FSA has an own Communications Division which gives advice on the best ways to make risk messages public to both the public and stakeholders. Information about decisions that are made, need to contain some scientific basis rather than simply communicating the end result.
One of the main approaches used by FSA to improve consumer confidence has been the use of the concepts of openness, transparency and public involvement. FSA Board meetings (to make policy decisions) are public and are broadcasted live over the Internet. Advisory committee meetings are generally open to the public. In these meetings it is possible to ask relevant questions at the end of the gatherings. Agendas, papers and minutes of the meetings are circulated to interested parties and are also available online. The advisory committee (responsible for Risk Assessment) involves consumer, industry and stakeholder representatives with equal rights. Nevertheless, it remains unanswered to what extent their questions and comments influence the decision-making of Risk Management.Source: Charlotte Yapp in Ellen Vos and Frank Wendler, “Food Safety Regulation in Europe: A Comparative Institutional Analysis”, Intersentia, 2006.