2,000 People Want to Tell You What to Eat


Earlier today, credible rumor had it that U.K. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was taking the axe to his country's Food Standards Agency. The plan, as reported, was to move safety and hygiene functions to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. Nutrition, diet, and public health functions would go to the Department of Health. And the agency—which had drawn attention for some controversial health claims about organic and genetically modified foods, and recently proposed a massive new system which would have classed supermarket products as red, yellow, or green light foods—would be no more. Sounds reasonable enough.

He has now backed off the story, saying that the Food Standards Agency will live on:

"Before the election I made perfectly clear that in my view the diet and nutrition responsibilities of the Food Standards Agency should form part of a more integrated public health service," Lansley told reporters.

"But I see no reason to suppose that of itself requires any organisational change in the Food Standards Agency more generally."

That's a shame, because organisational (note geographically appropriate British-y spelling) change is just what agencies that have outgrown their mandates need. The agency was created after the mad cow disease panic in U.K. and now has an annual budget of $205 million and 2,000 employees. When you get 2,000 people together and tell them they they're in charge of something, they generally can't help but do stuff. In the case of the Food Standards Agency, they started doing stuff they weren't intended to do in the first place.

Lansley has proved to be an interesting character, declaring on the BBC that he was not in favour of "lecturing, nannying people or constantly legislating or taxing people." (I recently blogged about Lansley here at Reason, after he talked some smack about celebrity food scold Jamie Oliver.) Even though he's backpedaling on this one, he's worth keeping an eye on.