The Food Standards Agency is to be abolished by Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, it emerged last night, after the watchdog fought a running battle with industry over the introduction of colour-coded "traffic light" warnings for groceries, TV dinners and snacks.
The move has sparked accusations that the government has "caved in to big business".
As part of the changes Lansley will reassign the FSA's regulatory aspects – including safety and hygiene – to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Its responsibilities for nutrition, diet and public health will be incorporated into the Department of Health.
"The functions of the FSA will be subsumed into the Department of Health and Defra," a source told Reuters.
Andrew Burnham, Labour's health spokesman, said: "Getting rid of the FSA is the latest in a number of worrying steps that show Andrew Lansley caving in to the food industry. It does raise the question whether the health secretary wants to protect the public health or promote food companies."
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, said it was "crazy" to dismember the FSA. "It had a hugely important role in improving the quality of foodstuffs in Britain and it was vital to have at the centre of government a body that championed healthy food. This appears just the old Conservative party being the political wing of business," Fry said.
Tom MacMillan of the Food Ethics Council, said: "The agency was set up to earn public trust after a succession of food scares. Its wobbles, like the latest row over GM foods, have come when that commitment has wavered. Any departments absorbing the FSA's role should heed that lesson carefully, doing even more to invite scrutiny and banish the slightest whiff of secrecy, or the new government could face another BSE."
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, the organic food standard-bearer, which had several run-ins with the first FSA chair Lord Krebs on the issue, said: "Many NGOs campaigning on food thought for a long time the food industry has an unhealthy degree of influence over the Department of Health so the great risk is the corporate vested interests of the food industry will have too strong an influence on future policy."
In its green paper on health last year, the Conservatives said they would scale back the role and remit of the FSA and place the independent watchdog under ministerial control.
Last night the Department of Health would only confirm the FSA was "under review".
For the past four years the FSA, which was set up to protect consumers after the BSE crisis, has been at the centre of a regulatory battle that has pitted big food companies against consumer groups and public health professionals, with both sides accusing each other of misinformation campaigns and excessive lobbying.
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Source: The Guardian