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Labour calls for food safety reform

05 July 2013

The Labour Party has called for a reform of food safety rules, by giving the Food Standards Authority new powers to order inspections into suppliers.

The measure, it claims, is aimed at preventing a repeat of the horsemeat scandal. Under the proposals, the FSA would be able to compel supermarkets to test their products and to reveal the results publicly, which is not the case at present.

The policy statement would also require the reunification of the FSA's powers, some of which have been taken over by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs and its agencies.

Shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh said that the £2billion a year used to buy food for the public sector should be redirected towards purchasing high quality local food from the UK. According to Creagh, this could be done at equal cost to current procurement methods. 
EU rules forbid member states from privileging their own suppliers above EU imports. By specifying certain qualities – for instance, meat and dairy products from ‘cruelty-free’ farms, or enforcing ‘UK welfare standards’ on all products – the government could ensure that more of its procurement comes from the UK, which would help reduce the £19bn of food that is imported every year.

Under the last Labour government, the amount of food procured by public bodies from the UK and from sources abroad was tracked, but this work was halted under the coalition so it is now impossible to tell where food for public services has come from, according to Huw Irranca Davies, shadow minister for food and farming.

"We need a comprehensive food strategy that addresses all of these issues," Creagh said. "The era of cheap food is over, and food has to be a major priority." She added that, while the quality of many school dinners had improved in recent years, much more should be done to ensure children have access to better nutrition, at a low cost.

With the coalition pushing for the development of genetically modified plants, Creagh was more cautious, saying that while the Labour party supported biotechnology research, there were also many ways to improve crop productivity under more traditional methods of plant breeding.

Creagh also plans a further report this autumn into food waste and food supply, aimed at stanching the estimated one-third of uneaten food that ends up in British dustbins every year.

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