The Agency will protect the interests of consumers by following three core values. It will put the consumer first; be open and accessible, and be an independent voice. The Act of Parliament establishing the Agency ensures its independence by entitling it to publish its advice to Government.
The Chairman, Professor Sir John Krebs, said today: "The Food Standards Agency is a new Government Department. It will deal with all aspects of food safety and standards throughout the food chain.
"It is a unique organisation. The UK is in the lead internationally in setting up a Government Department to deal with food safety and standards in such a comprehensive way. At the heart of all the Agency's activities will be the clear commitment to serve the best interests of consumers, and operate in an open and independent way - this is reflected in some key initiatives I am announcing today."
The Agency will set and audit standards for the enforcement of food law by local authorities. The framework document outlining how this will be achieved in England is published today. The Framework Agreement will be open for consultation over the next few months with a view to guidance going to local authorities in September.
Health Ministers have agreed to the Agency's recommendation that a statutory scheme for licensing butchers' shops should now be introduced. The necessary Regulations for England will be laid before the Westminster Parliament later today. Equivalent regulations were laid in Scotland last week and will be laid shortly in Wales and Northern Ireland. The statutory scheme will come into operation in the autumn.
The Agency will set performance targets for the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS). These will be published on the website later this month. The Agency will also set up an efficiency review of the MHS, and establish a new Supervisory Board chaired by the Deputy Chair, Suzi Leather, to provide a strategic steer to the MHS.
The Agency is creating a new 'think-tank' to help it to take a 'farm to fork' approach to its work. It will bring in external experts to advise on specific issues and undertake focused investigations throughout the food chain - including primary production on the farm - and identify any practices which might threaten food safety.
Sir John said that the Agency's commitment to openness had been demonstrated by the Board's decision to meet in public from its first formal meeting in May. This will help to ensure that all policy debate and discussion will be accessible to everyone.
The Agency will also host its first special public 'open forum' in the West Midlands on 31st May, to discuss how the Agency will do business. Agendas and notes of Board meetings will be published on the website, as well as regular reports on the Agency's scientific work and surveillance, and food safety information.
Sir John said: "The website is not, however, just about giving people information. From the start, people can tell us what they would like to see on the site. As the site develops, it will support our strategy of two-way communication."
The Agency will undertake annual consumer surveys which will help to establish what people expect, and track what people think, of the Agency and its work and help the Agency to respond to their real concerns.
Sir John continued: "We know from an exercise begun in January by Baroness Hayman, Minister for Food Safety, that consumers want clearer information on things like production methods, where food comes from, and nutritional properties and health risks. We will reflect these views by firmly promoting consumer choice through more informative labelling within the existing rules. We will use consumers' views to work with our European partners for improved consumer protection."
The Agency will contribute to the Government's targets to reduce coronary heart disease and stroke. One activity will be to identify new ways to help disadvantaged consumers improve their diets. The Agency will appoint a dedicated staff member to ensure that their interests are fully taken into account in all that the Agency does.
Sir John said: "Everyone cares about food and food safety. The Government has set up the Food Standards Agency to 'put an end to the climate of confusion and suspicion about the way that food safety and standards issues have been handled'. In other words, we are here to protect consumers and to earn public trust and confidence. We will earn this trust by doing, and not simply being. We will earn it by the way we do things, as well as by what we do."