As we are established by parliament to protect consumers interests in relation to food – need a definition of what they are…
Worked with consumers and consumer groups, industry, academics and scientists and came up with this definition
So that tells you the essntials about who we are – we are a non ministerial department, set up by parlt to put the consumer first and be a powerful independent advocate for consumers in the system, including exercising some regulatory powers…
As part of our strategy review we then reviewed all the available evidence and took the views of a very wide range of people and organisations about the challenges to the food system both now and likely in the future and found v high level of consensus on 5 top level challenges – pressures on the food system
The first is the effects of climate change – temperature, water, energy constraints
Significantly reduce the productivity of the world’s current highly productive areas
And increase and change food safety and fraud risks – much more volatility in supply
And meanwhile the population is growing
Which increases demand for food and reduces the space you have to grow it in – specially if you take account of increased pressure for land – for people to live on and for biofuels
So there are an awful lot of pressures on the food system that threaten its ability to meet consumers needs for access to an affordable, safe healthy diet in the future…
These things are not just things that might happen in the future – they are already beginning to happen
Already see these things having effect
So we’ve talked about the stuff I know most about now – what the FSA is, and what we have learnt about the food system and the challenges that face it.
Now I am going to touch briefly on what we decided in our strategy review were the roles of different players in the system in trying to deliver food we can trust – which is the aim of our strategy, but one that we know we certainly can’t deliver on our own…
We have to face the facts that traditional ways of making that happen may not work in the future – local authority and police resources stretched more thinly over a wider range of risks and a more vulnerable population…
So we are trying to find ways of making businesses step up to their responsibilities that don’t involve regulatory boots on the ground and a key example of this approach would be our campy campaign.
Campylobacter biggest cause of FBD in the UK – 280,000 cases pa, c1% with permanent consequences, some deaths. The top cause of campylobacteriosis in humans is poultry meat.
It has been FSAs top priority for a long time but we and industry had been failing to make any impact on the levels of contamination…
So we decided to reinforce the message about responsibility and also our commitment to openness and giving consumers information about their food supply by carrying out and publishing a survey of campy levels by retailer – a league table. Because retailers have a great deal of power over the supply chain …
So we formed a campaign and invited all the retailers, producers, Which and others to join it with the mission of significantly reducing the effect of campylobacter in chickens on human health
We carried out the survey and arranged to publish results quarterly
And we designed a campaign to also get consumers to adjust their practices in the kitchen to make them safer and reduce the incidence of campylobacter – including stopping them washing their chicken, which just spreads bugs around the kitchen
So now we were using the media to push out our messages to consumers, and to supermarkets, not just responding to media demands…
The effect of our work is being seen in consumer awareness of Campylobacter which is at an all time high and I am very pleased that some big poutlry producers and retailers are now making real headway in reducing contamination levels. And I believe that this is happening because of the transparency that we have introduced to this issue and because we have managed to create some accountability to consumers…
ensuring that members of the public are kept adequately informed about … matters which the Agency considers significantly affect their capacity to make informed decisions about food
We need to empower consumers = to create more red resource focused on making sure the food system delivers for the long term interests of consumers rather than privileging shareholder interests which can happen if there is no accountability to consumers…
But this is very challenging – consumers feel very small and powerless to influence the system
There are two levels at which we want to engage and empower consumers
The first is just in their individual consumption choices – we say that we want consumers to stop, think and choose
And to support this we demand that businesses give them the information to encourage them and enable them to choose
We recognise that different things will matter to different people – some will care most about the financial cost of what they are buying and so we would support the work on pricing transparency that Which? do; some will care most about weight management and so we support work to show the calorific content of foods; some will need utter clarity on allergens hence all the work we do on allergen information…
But beyond those individual choices – to eat less meat, to avoid endangered fish species or seafood with human rights violations in its production chain – there are also opportunities for consumers to influence each other and businesses in wider ways.
There are some tools developing that can enable small individuals to engage with big issues and make a difference
Some of the work on tuna that greenpeace and others have done for example has enabled consumers to identify food businesses who are breaking their promises to consumers and put pressure on them to step up to the plate…
And that is why we have identified the importance of “food champions” in our strategy, and why I am so pleased to be here with you tonight – because the Birm Food council is an example of the kind of organisation that we think can play an important role in advocating for and empowering consumers and creating accountability for food providers…
I am really delighted that here in Birmingham the Food Council has identified a way of being food champions and community food champions. I am particularly interested in how more empowered consumers can advocate for those who may be less empowered and in this context the project that you have undertaken writing to care homes and nurseries with poor food hygiene practices asking them to improve is absolutely exemplary
We will look for more and more ways to put information out there to enable consumers to take power
Where’s this from and information for consumers on welfare
So we acknowledge an important role that we have to play – but we also honour and encourage the essential role that you and others like you have to play in delivering food we can trust.
We have a role in framing a public debate – using our position as a body that is evidence-based and trusted by consumer and industry alike;
This allows champions and activist consumers to emerge and coalesce, building demand-side pressure for change and expanding the reach and depth of the debate;
The demand-side pressure helps to bring industry and other partners to the table, and we can then work with them to design, develop and deliver tools, including but not limited to information, that help consumers to stop, think and choose.
And together that delivers benefits for consumers and communities
So thank you for everything and anything you do as individuals and as supporters of the Birmingham Food Council in terms of stopping, thinking and choosing personally and in terms of raising the key issues relating to food with your communities. The challenges to our food supply are very great and we will only get the best outcomes for consumers and communities by working together
I don’t have any more answers than anyone else in the room, but keen to have a discussion with you about what you think the issues are that face the food system and how we can most effectively mobilise all the key players to work to address them and maximise availability of food we can trust