Vega responds to a Food Standards Agency Consultation
Vega's response to the Consultation on strategy for 2010 to 2015 is below
1. The FSA's Strategy must establish a livelier interaction with NGOs, charities and organizations well established in matters of farming and food, to emphasize positive initiatives with good appreciation of the challenges looming in science-based developments and reduction of effort shoring up obsolescent systems that account for a disproportionate amount of budgets and effort and sap the enthusiasm and enjoyment of food. This imbalance is illustrated currently in the neglect of official and generally acceptable imperatives to reverse the rising demands for outputs of "meat-and-dairy" (M and D, including Fish and Game) and to find replacements that are feasible and inviting. Leadership and example are imperative in an atmosphere of decadence, and indulgence must be replaced by a prevailing abstemiousness. We can contribute relevantly to appropriate policies.
2. The FSA will have to deal with other science versus religion matters more profound than trying to making smokies acceptable. Current controversies over evolution, religion, history, ethics, and food and drink must illuminate our educational system in a background of objectivity and academic comment that would raise the debate to true bromatological levels. In the last few months, for instance, our Portfolio of Eating Plans has recognized the Christian significance of Lent and the Jewish observance of the Passover and the differences of Ashkenazi and Sephardic celebrations and the consequences in evolutionary, dietary, and welfare terms. Likewise, we introduce comment and example timed for Eids and Hindu celebrations, as well as at Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving, and World Food Day. As a training and campaigning organization - which FSA should be too - we emphasize the values in education and schooling and see opportunities for some broadcast God Slots to rate as informatively and stimulatingly as Gut Slots.
3. The FSA has to meet some incompatible requirements: to initiate and commission the science-based endeavors and to cope with the attached responsibilities in controls, claims, labelling and security. All these developments and exercise of the appropriate advice are to devolve on consumers and their representatives with scanty experience and knowledge of matters of farming, food, health and the land, with the added responsibilities of the welfare of all livestock species, domesticated and wild, and with the inclusion of humans: still less, could this lay public be entrusted to operate precautionary principles. And experts, boasting great experience and sagacity, would not care to shoulder such decisions and the consequences. There are already signs that the expert advisors to the hapless John Gummer are still active in food and farming matters, and they and their successors, still try to shift on to unversed public responsibilities where guidance and leadership have to depend on the contemporaneous informed guesses and judgment that are all that can be offered. This pragmatism may entail changes of mind and opinion, just it has overtaken experts on environmental aspects of nuclear energy and now requires justification from servants of the FSA who must own up to flawed judgment just as John Gummer's guidance and advice were found so terribly wrong. If only the press would seek out Cordelia Gummer to seek her opinions of the confusion (and of the offer of a subsequent gift of a veggy-burger as a Christmas present).
4. The FSA will have to follow, with medics and vets, developments in screening (for deficiency diseases at any early stage and to compare with results from tables of the composition of foods) and DNA and RNA methods (which should quite soon reveal the factors in development and prevention of certain cancers, diabetes, and thyroid malfunction). There would also come improved tests for tracking and traceability of "biological materials" and provenance. We can already access a person's diet on an animal-vegetable-mineral basis, which would allow estimates (eg labeling) of the origins of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, as well as some micro-elements. The Bio Bank scheme is getting under way and is fairly well advanced in parts of China.
5. Our attendances at FSA Board Open Meetings exhibit some of our efforts at giving the benefit we can offer, within our means. Our experience in FSA - type matters goes back over 50 years and concerns similar interactions with relevant Ministries and Inquiries, and we are beginning to break down the efforts of these organizations to restrict scientific parleying to Q and A, rather than carefully-presented deliberation, i.e. something more profound, than a few journalistic sentences. I note that the FSA News is shorn of signs of controversy, and "Q and A" after Open Board Meetings is not minuted. Organizations like ours aim at further training of scientists and skills at campaigning and we have to prove our success to our Trustees, so the records are important. Our long and continuing association with hygiene and welfare matters in the live/deadstock industry has been recognized by the award by the VPHA of hon membership, to our Research Advisor. The VPHA runs good conferences and is responsible for hygiene and welfare in its MHS roles at slaughterhouses. I'm also involved in Food Security in terms of acts of terrorism and in culling. I'd like, however, to spend more effort on giving vets pleasanter tasks in accord with their professional vows and influence.
6. Future trends in agriculture and horticulture can resume attention to novel foods and crops, research on which was broken off when the oven-ready broiler and battery-hen became cheap sources of protein and calories as the "Green" Revolution of the 1960s swept into farming with lavish subsidies to cereal farmers and to red meat and dairy farmers, who have also benefited sporadically with set-aside payments etc. These factors are now an important gain and the FSA's interventions in redirecting the subsidies to benefit plant-based food-production, while leaving farmers to indemnify themselves against claims arising from bad husbandry should set better levels of standards, policing, and service to the public. These ends can be met by resource to renewed interest in foods produced by micro-organisms and trees, with revival of research opportunities in mycology, facilities for which may have to be sought elsewhere in the EU.
7. Some wit and invention must be devoted to relieving the dour face of austerity and contempt for the "food-police" and "nanny-state." Revision of the Nativity Plays as lessons in HACCP with the 3 officials with their clip-boards converging on the befouled manger and its environs - an EHO, a TSO, and Professor Pennington with a satchel-full of swabs, for example. Adaptions of well-known tunes, for instance; say, Boiled Beef and Carrots and Button up Your Overcoat. We may lack a poet laureate with the wit of Bernard Shaw, but surely we can recapture the spirit of the happy versification of the There is just one golden rule, There is no substitute for Wool. There's more fun to food than peeling spuds and washing up.
8. There should be no reluctance to setting standards for food that match the levels won by Britain's NGOs and campaigners for clothing and cosmetics that can be rated as cruelty-free. Progress is also being made in medical experimentation and in testing for food safety on the basis of the 3Rs - Refinement, Reduction, and Replacement - a trend welcomed for cosmetics and toiletries (which include toothpaste) by the Royal Society, one of whose Fellows is Professor Colin Blakemore, Chairman of the GACS Committee. The FSA should be to the fore with voluntary organizations and researchers to aim at similar standards for farming and food to yield "Freedom Foods" that are meat-free, dairy-free, and cruelty-free.