FSA aims for ‘right touch’ regulation

The Food Standards Agency needs to build more trust with businesses, says Heather Hancock

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) needs to develop more trusting relationships with the food businesses it regulates if it is to get them to share more information, its chairman Heather Hancock acknowledged in her Campden BRI lecture last month.

“I have got the message that there is a trust hurdle to overcome,” said Hancock. The FSA’s commitment to openness and transparency “was the big obstacle” for the sector in sharing data and intelligence, she added.

Hancock offered to work at overcoming this obstacle, without compromising the FSA’s principles.

In a presentation scattered with the word “trust”, Hancock said it was a very fragile thing and easily destroyed. She outlined the changes underway within the agency as part of its Regulating the Future programme.

Under this initiative, the FSA would change its approach to science, its sustainability and its character, she said, focusing on becoming a more agile and less campaigning body.

‘Building reputation and trust’

“Years spent building reputation and trust are undermined in the blink of an eye by someone, somewhere in the food system getting it wrong and we are all back to square one when that happens,” she warned.

Only 47% of the public responding to our latest consumer survey said that they trusted the people that produced their food.”

The changes at the FSA would involve relinquishing some activities that were not seen to add value, while investing more money in strategic science and data analysis, Hancock reported.

“I think the FSA can do a lot more to help build public trust by sharing scientific and technical information more effectively,” she said.

The FSA should be the trusted source for evidence-based science, which should be used to explain the concept of risk, certainty and uncertainty, she added.

‘We need a regulatory regime’

Referring to the changes planned under the Regulating our Future programme, Hancock said: “If our end ambition is to be an excellent, modern regulator – which it is – we need a regulatory regime that makes that real. One that is responsive, agile and sustainable.”

At present, she remarked, the way the FSA operated was not proportionate to the risk presented, and that was why it planned to move to a more risk-based approach using “earned recognition” of food businesses that could demonstrate high standards of hygiene compliance through proven accreditation schemes, regulated third-party assurance and businesses’ own data.

“Our new approach will segment businesses according to the level of risk they present,” said Hancock. “There is so much more information in and about food businesses that we could be using to build a more accurate picture of behaviour and compliance. Technology is making that easier all the time.”

She added: “Some people have suggested that his is ‘light touch’ regulation and it is not, it is ‘right touch’ regulation.”

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