Health watchdog gets food for thought
FOOD for thought is being prepared today for two chiefs from a food standards watchdog visiting the Felixstowe port on a fact-finding mission.Sir John Krebs and Suzi Leather were getting a taste of the work done by the port health department, responsible for monitoring one-third of all Britain's imported food.
By Richard Cornwell
FOOD for thought is being prepared today for two chiefs from a food standards watchdog who on a fact-finding visit to Felixstowe port.
Sir John Krebs and Suzi Leather were getting a taste of the work done by the port health department, responsible for monitoring one-third of all Britain's imported food.
But the menu for their visit was set to have one unexpected ingredient – as councillors sought to bid for more funding for the health team's vital work.
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Suffolk Coastal cabinet member for health and safety Patricia O'Brien was set to tell Sir John, chairman of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and Ms Leather, vice chairman, that district tax payers were not happy funding some aspects of the unit's work which benefit people countrywide.
Last year the council spent nearly £200,000 on inspections of food destined for supermarket shelves across the country but without a penny of government cash to offset the "unfair burden".
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The port health team is responsible for protecting the health of the community by monitoring the standards of all imported foodstuffs.
It operates the Felixstowe border inspection post, inspects imported foods, as well as checking that vessels are complying with international and this country's health and hygiene requirements.
Mrs O'Brien was confident Sir John and Ms leather would be impressed by the work carried out at the port.
"Felixstowe Port continues to expand and the council has recognised this and responded to the increasing demand by providing additional staff and resources, and Sir John and Ms Leather will have the chance to see, at first-hand, the range and quality of the work our staff are undertaking," said Mrs O'Brien.
"I will take the opportunity to press the case for funding for the cost of inspections of non-animal food products, one of our statutory responsibilities.
"These inspections will cost Suffolk Coastal taxpayers an estimated £190,000 this year.
"This is a national service that places an unfair burden on the people of Suffolk Coastal. I hope that the FSA will use its influence to ensure recognition and recompense for port health."
Importers of products of animal origin are charged by port health. This generated around £1.5m last year and met the full cost of that part of the service.
However, there is no levy Suffolk Coastal can place on importers of food products of non-animal origin, such as peanuts and honey. Last year the Council spent £183,500 providing this service.
Port health is responsible for import controls on a large proportion of the nuts consumed in the UK, and for virtually all supplies of dried figs.
Both of these are subject to contamination with alfatoxin for which the European Union requires port health to carry out sampling and analysing checks.
The FSA was set up to deal with food safety and standards throughout the food chain, advise ministers and develop policy, protect consumers by enforcement, monitoring and licensing, and support consumer choice.