Abolishment of FSA Part of Wider Regulatory Ferment

A new wave has crashed on the unsettled shore of the international regulatory scene with the news that the conservative government in the United Kingdom is planning to abolish that country’s Food Standards Agency.

The FSA is a relatively new agency within the UK; it was created as a non-ministerial governmental department in 2000 the wake of the mad cow disease scare in the late 90s. And it has a checkered history; its sometimes-fractious relationship with industry seems to have made it an easy target for the cost-cutting axe wielded by UK health secretary Andrew Lansley.

But some observers say that it was the agency’s controversial advocacy of a “stop light” food labeling system that spelled its demise. That effort, which was opposed by industry and was rejected recently in the European Parliament, sought to label food under a European Union-wide green-amber-red system based on the amount of calories, sugars and fats in the finished product.

Lansley has had the FSA in his sights for months, saying that he was planning on “reining in” the FSA and refocusing it solely on matters of food safety, leaving nutrition policy to other regulatory bodies.

"I've certainly had difficulties about the way the FSA has gone about front-of-pack nutritional labeling, [and] more generally, that it operates not just as an independent voice within government but sometimes as a conflicting voice," Lansley told The Grocer in March.

It’s unclear what the move means for the dietary supplements industry in the UK. In the short term, FSA’s functions are likely to be transferred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). At the very least, it means forming new relationships with a new suite of regulators who are taking on new responsibilities.

And it comes at a time of unprecedented ferment within the regulatory climate in Europe. This is of critical importance not just for those companies based in or doing a large portion of their business within the EU; regulations now in force or being written in the EU are being considered as models for new regulations in Asia and elsewhere.

One thing companies can do is to participate in an industry-wide effort to influence how the European Food Safety Authority implements the Article 13.1 health claims process. As part of that effort the European Health Claims Alliance is holding a conference on Sept. 30 in Brussels. Among the topics covered in the conference will be results of an independent economic assessment of the health claims regulations and the national authorities’ views on enforcement issues and solutions.

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