The Scottish Government (SG) introduced its Food (Scotland) Bill to Parliament in mid-March. This is being examined by the Health and Sport Committee and will also be considered by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. Currently in Scotland, food safety and food standards are governed by the Food Safety Act 1990, the Food Standards Act 1999, regulations made by Scottish Ministers and European regulations. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) operates on a devolved basis in Scotland.
In 2010, SG disagreed with the UK Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for nutrition and food labelling from FSA to the Department of Health and DEFRA a factor regarded as hindering the UK response to the horsemeat scandal). Accordingly, SG commissioned an independent review, led by Professor Jim Scudamore – John Dyson represented BHA on the review group – which made recommendations that have been accepted by Government including:
- That food safety should not be separated from nutrition and labelling;
- Advice on food related matters should be independent, evidence-based and consumer-focused and come from an organisation at arm’s length from Government
- The creation of a new food body for Scotland (BHA responded to the SG consultation).
The Bill establishes Food Standards Scotland (FSS) as a new public body which will replace FSA in Scotland from 2015 and will have some powers which FSA did not have. The Bill provides for amendments to existing legislation. FSS will be set up as a non-ministerial office which will be independent of Government but accountable to Parliament. The objectives of the new body will be to: protect the public from risk arising from food consumption, improve the diet of the Scottish population and protect wider consumer interests with regard to food eg in relation to labelling and advertising. Other activities will include:
- Stakeholder engagement and training;
- Establishing regulations in relation to animal feed;
- Carrying out observations, visits and inspections of businesses involved in any aspect of the food chain;
- Placing a duty on food business operators to inform FSS about contraventions of food information law;
- Establishing a mandatory food hygiene information scheme based on the existing voluntary arrangements (it is unlikely that this will be enacted until a review has been undertaken of similar schemes elsewhere in the UK);
- Issuing fixed penalty notices for relevant offences;
- Issuing of compliance notices for relevant offences.
The establishment of FSS will not interfere with local authority environmental health or trading standards functions.