Jim Parle: Why doesn’t everyone who sells food have to show their food standards hygiene rating?
Catherine Brown – I can warmly agree with that. I’m a civil servant, this requires the government of the day to pass a law on it. That’s happened in N Ireland and Wales. We will be having discussions with government and taking them our impact assessment.
Wade Lyn of Cleone Foods. Would it be an idea that there should be food production standards communicated between food businesses?
Catherine Brown: Essentially yes, for example allergy control on ingredients
Jerry Housego NSF Can we scan production information on to pre packed foods.
Catherine Brown: The issue is having comparable information, that can then be made into useful tools for the public. We will put as much of our information out as much as we can and we are encouraging businesses to do the same. We also need a quality insurance about the information. More and more claims will be made about food and trying to agree standards that make those claims meaningful and credible is important.
Caroline Wolhuter, Ashram. Can we use the Social Value Act to apply it to food business and public safety areas?
Catherine Brown: Interesting, [she asked us to note this question as she hadn’t thought of this legislation . . . so here’s the information!]
Didn’t catch the name: Are labels enough?
Catherine Brown: It’s clear that you can’t put all the things consumers are interested in on the label. So we have to find ways to make information more widely available and find ways to make the information credible. For example we are testing chicken, but the supermarkets spend much more than we do on the same, so can we access that data, trust it and use it?
Clive Stone The Centennial Centre: When you were talking about campylobacter you used a large media stick to get your message across to food producers, how much will you be doing this in the future for getting strategic change, and are you prepared to speak out against the larger organisations?
Catherine Brown: As a civil servant I’m rarely diplomatic, which is why we published the data about chicken. The full glare of the media is a hard intervention and we will use whatever intervention that works, however hard. But we can’t do it all the time and not everything it will work on. So we also need to persuade. We have become more efficient, we do a similar number of things more efectively before, but we can’t keep doing more. Will industry (and consumers in product prices?) need to pay more for regulation – or will we need to have less regulation?
Geoff Tansey, Fabian Society: You talk about choice but for a lot of people they don’t have choice on food. Can the FSA come on board to look at the poverty premium. http://www.tansey.org.uk/
Catherine Brown: We have hugely widened our description of what we care about. We have put affordability and access in our definition of what we care about.
Jan Tomlinson, Birmingham City Council: Has the government given the go ahead to privatise the FSA and I’m not clear what ministry you are in? Plus another question – how do we address the tax on sugar?
Catherine Brown: We are a non ministerial department. We were set up because of concerns that farming was gaining priority over food. We are funded directly from the Treasury. We don’t report to a minister, which is a big upside, e.g. it allows us to use a science and evidence base. It also allows us to be really transparent and open about data. But it does mean we don’t have anyone to take changes through parliament for us, we have to persuade ministers to do what’s god for consumers.
I don’t believe we are about to be privatised.
On sugar, the decision to remove nutrition from the FSA and make is about wider public health makes a lot of sense, and it relates to food and how we look after ourself and how it makes us feel. No longer our core area. So we are now saying we can make contribution from a consumers’ perspective, their experience of food, but in terms of regulation can we do anything meaningful in this space with the budget we have? We also have to take care not to keep adding cost into food chain.
Mathew Hicks: We develop tests for food products, including detection of human pathogens. We are a small company, can’t do everything. Where should we best direct our efforts, its a small hand-held test that costs a few pounds. Currently aimed at food storage.
Catherine Brown: Instant diagnostic test on key pathogens … in the medium terms we want companies to do tests that give us real time feedback. So significant in scale and immediate over the next 3 to 5 years.
Didn’t catch the name. What can the FSA do to help small producers into their local stores?
Catherine Brown. Do I think it’s our job to work on this? (subsequent question re Red tractor) We would certainly say consumers need to have the information to make that choice, but it’s not on the time of things for me.
Adrian Phillips, Birmingham Public Health. If we’d heard you’re talk three months ago I could’ve included the hygiene rating in the devolution agreement! In terms of regulation there are more people out there who can help and we probably need stronger links with you and work more closely with you to help.
Catherine Brown. I think that would be brilliant.
Wade Lyn, Cleone Foods: As an entrepreneur I think there should be a charge to a registered food business to the local authority. The business has to pay a membership fee to the local authority to be able to trade. £100 or £50 depending on the size of your business.
Catherine Brown: I’ll be bringing you out to talk to Ministers. Here, here.
John Lever, University of Huddersfield. I do research on halal food, every so often we get hysteria. What can we do to stop that?
Catherine Brown: The issues around welfare are issues of policy this govt has said they attach a premium on religious freedom.
Amrick Ubhi, Nishkam Centre: 17 goals were agreed recently by governments around the world, no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well being, affordable energy, responsible consumption and production. How many of these are we ascribed to and what are we doing nationally and in London?
Catherine Brown: I’m interested in women’s involvement in empowerment and what that means for communities. I would say our responsibility for safety in world food system does mean we are relevant to those goals and we do think we need to get more involved in international work, because food is global.
Amrick Ubhi, Nishkam Centre: That red dot doesn’t have to be a small red dot [in ‘Size and Resources’ slide in Catherine’s presentation], there are more people who can get involved.
Catherine Brown: Partnership is important part of what next, because the system is too big. I do also mean that the people who work in food business are also consumers, so they also care about food safety.
Mark Rogers: My short response is I work for an organisation whose priorities are prosperity, fairness and democracy. Prosperity is about good growth that benefits all the population of the city. The council has a social conscience and fairness is not just economic. We are a democratic organisation and part of the will of the authority is to increase participation in society. A civic organisation like mine, needs to work harder to get the benefits from working with civil society.
photograph above of Catherine Brown listening to a question taken by Chadwick Jackson