IN A move that had been expected but was nonetheless welcomed, an independent expert panel set up by Scottish ministers yesterday submitted its report proposing the setting up of a standalone Scottish Food Standards Agency.
The panel chaired by the UK’s former chief vet, Jim Scudamore came to the conclusion that this would be the best proposal for Scotland’s long-term interests.
The outcome was always on the cards after the UK government decided in 2010 to absorb some of the policy areas overseen in England by the UK-wide Food Standards Agency back into Whitehall departments. This has resulted in a situation where the agency carried out different food standard functions in different parts of the UK.
One big issue for Scotland from the current arrangements has been the meat inspection charges imposed by the FSA on processing plants, with the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers claiming loudly and over a long period that these were disproportionate.
Taking up the specific issue, the panel has recommended that the elements of the Meat Inspection Service that were relevant to Scotland should be transferred to the FSA in Scotland.
To emphasise the point, it also recommended that even if the Scottish Government did not proceed with the setting up of the standalone organisation, the work should in future be under the operational control of the director of the FSA in Scotland.
Welcoming the Scudamore panel’s recommendations, Alan Craig, president of SAMW said they provided a clear and positive basis on which to move the meat chain in Scotland forward.
“The proposal for a standalone FSA in Scotland is in the best interests of Scotland and offers the chance for a welcome fresh start for everyone involved in meat production, processing, retailing and consumption.
“We’ve believed for a while that a clean slate was needed if the industry in Scotland was to be allowed to move forward as a modern, efficient and responsible sector.”
He praised the panel for delivering what he described as a clear, thoughtful and progressive report, which he hoped would result “in a rapid move towards the early implementation of its conclusions”.
After years of hostility on inspection charges, Craig added that there was now an opportunity for the whole meat chain to “embrace genuine operational harmony and a truly positive partnership between industry and regulators”.
Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, saw the proposal as making total sense in terms of efficiency and cost. “The Scottish red meat industry is working hard to improve efficiency and reduce waste in every link of the production chain,” he said. “This news will be welcomed by Scottish processors up and down the country, many of whom are enduring very tight and, in some cases, knife-edge margins.”
Michael Matheson, the public health minister, said the Scottish Government would now consider the way forward before announcing the next steps. It is expected that there will be a full response within the next couple of months.