Cowen announces publication of Food Safety Authority of Ireland Bill
The Government has published a Bill providing for the establishment on a full statutory basis of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
In line with the commitment in the Government’s Action Programme for the Millennium, the new Authority will be the single agency with overall responsibility for the enforcement of legislative provisions in the area of food safety and hygiene and for the promotion of standards of good practice throughout all stages of food production, distribution and sale. The Authority, therefore, takes over the functions of existing agencies (Department, health boards, etc) in this area and, in future, these agencies will conduct their inspections under the direction and guidance of the Authority. The Government believes this will ensure a greater degree of uniformity in the inspection regime and that it will ensure that public health and consumer interests will take precedence.
The Authority will come under the aegis of the Minister for Health and Children, who will also appoint the Board and the Scientific Committee. The Scientific Committee will play a critical role in ensuring that decisions relating to food safety and hygiene take full account of the latest and best scientific advice and information available.
There will also be a Consultative Council, which will be representative of a wide spectrum of interests connected with food, including consumers, producers and industry.
The Authority will operate by means of service contracts with the agencies currently engaged in enforcement of food legislation. These agencies will in future act as agents of the Authority in the performance of their contracts. The Authority will be able to publish details on these contracts and on a wide range of other issues relating to food safety and hygiene, thus providing a much greater degree of transparency and information about the operation of the inspection system.
Transfers of staff from existing agencies to the Authority are not considered necessary at this stage. Instead, the service contract model ensures the Authority can begin work as quickly as possible, while minimising the disruption associated with the break-up of existing bodies. Nevertheless, the Bill makes provision for staff transfers, should this be considered necessary, and for the assumption by the Authority of the duties of any existing agency which is considered to be failing to provide an adequate inspection and control service.
In addition to the enforcement of legislation and the promotion of higher standards, the Authority has functions in relation to research, advice, co-ordination of services and certification of food. It will be able to promote, in conjunction with industry and producer groups food safety assurance schemes. It will have all necessary powers to follow the chain as far back as is necessary in order to deal with any situation giving rise to concerns about the safety and hygiene of food. Its officers will have full powers to enter premises, seize documents and samples, issue improvement notices and closure orders and to prohibit the sale of food considered unfit for human consumption.
Members of the Board, the Scientific Committee, senior staff and consultants will be required to make full declarations of interests. This, along with the guarantee in the Bill of the operational independence of the Authority, is designed to re-enforce the role of the Authority as an independent, separate body dedicated to protecting public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene. The Authority does not have any role in relation to the commercial developments in the food industry.
The Government hopes to have the Bill enacted by the summer recess and to have the Authority established by January 1999. Meanwhile, the interim Authority will remain in office and continue to make preparations for the establishment of the full statutory Authority, with its full range of powers and duties.