Food Law News - UK - 2005

FSA Consultation, 1 April 2005

ADMINISTRATION - The Food Standard Agency's approach to regulatory decision making

The FSA are seeking views and comments on the Food Standard Agency's approach to regulatory decision making. The policy statement on the FSA approach sets out how they engage with stakeholders and the factors taken into consideration in deciding any regulatory intervention. Responses are requested by: 30 June 2005

[Note: The Policy Statement is available on this site: FSA Approach to Regulatory Decision Making - Policy Statement (pdf file)]

Consultation details


Our primary objectives are the protection of public health and consumers' other interests in relation to food and drink. We use both formal regulation and alternatives to regulation to achieve these objectives. We need to work with a very diverse range of stakeholders across local, national and international boundaries to achieve consumer protection, and operate in a context in which the great majority of food law is EU-wide.

Describing our current approach

We already make use of a wide range of alternatives to regulation to protect consumers, including providing guidance and information to both consumers and business, and working with industry to improve consumer protection and information.

Where regulatory action is necessary, we seek to follow the principles of better regulation. This would be characterised by us achieving our objective to protect consumers in an open and transparent manner, thereby promoting a positive regulatory climate that motivates business to comply, provides flexibility for innovation, encourages business to drive up standards, and avoids imposing unnecessary costs on business that may end up being passed on to the consumer. We are already active in promoting better regulation and are keen to build on progress made so far.

The attached policy statement sets out the regulatory and alternative interventions we employ to protect public health and consumers' other interests in relation to food and drink, and our approach to deciding the most appropriate action in each case.

Key consultation questions

This consultation seeks the views of stakeholders on how we might improve our approach to regulatory decision making in support of our primary objectives. We welcome your views on any aspect of this consultation document and particularly on the following:

We recognise that community-based and ‘hard to hear' consumer groups, as well as small and medium-sized food enterprises, may not be reached by or have the resources to participate in formal consultation. (Paragraph 10 of the attached policy document)

What might be more effective means of ensuring we hear the views of these stakeholders?

What more could we do to ensure that stakeholders are informed of our decisions and how can we improve the transparency of how those decisions are made?

We have a statutory duty to otherwise protect the interests of consumers in relation to food and drink. We have identified some tests that could be applied to decide which issues fall within this remit. (Paragraphs 18-21)

Are there other relevant criteria?

We aim to be evidence-based and follow the principles of better regulation, whether we are acting to protect public health or to protect consumers' other interests in relation to food and drink. We believe that additional factors come into play, especially when considering whether to act to protect consumers' other interests. Such factors could include balancing the interests of different groups of consumers, or balancing the impacts of market intervention to deliver the expectations of some consumers with its potential impact on reducing choice for others. (Paragraph 22)

Do you agree that these factors should be considered and what additional issues should be taken in to account?

Paragraphs 11 and 12 and Box 1 summarise the range of interventions we consider when addressing different policy issues, from doing nothing to direct, prescriptive regulation.

Are there any other steps, not listed in Box 1 , that we might take to help achieve our primary objectives of protecting and improving public health, and protecting consumers' other interests in relation to food and drink?

We publish the results of our surveys, including the brands of the foods that are surveyed. Some surveys look at compliance with the law, while others look at the extent to which best practice guidance is being followed. Some commentators have suggested that if the FSA publishes the extent to which individual companies follow best practice guidance this could be argued to amount to regulatory creep. However, we believe it is reasonable for consumers to expect the FSA to inform them about the extent to which best practice is being followed.

Do you agree that we should publish results of surveys showing the extent to which best practice is being followed?

Is this information useful to consumers?

We have a statutory duty to take account of costs and benefits when considering the exercise of our powers. We will assess possible approaches not only in terms of improvements to public health and consumer protection but also in light of the effects on industry and other stakeholders. (Paragraphs 23-27)

Are there other types of costs and benefits that should be taken into account?

Future developments

The nature and detail of both the food and drink sector and consumer expectations change over time and it is important that we keep in tune with the demands this will place on us as a regulator. We will, therefore, keep the policy statement under review, and further develop our approach to regulatory decision-making in the light of developments in thinking in the UK and EU on public protection and regulation. This will be supported by empirical evidence from our own experiences and those of others, and the results of systematic research.

Responses to this consultation will provide a valuable contribution to our thinking in the UK and EU on public protection and regulation.

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