Food for independence

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7079.459 (Published 15 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:459

To distance the sponsors of commercial interests from the defenders of consumer health

  1. Martin McKee, Professor of European public healtha,
  2. Tim Lang, Professor of food policyb
  1. a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  2. b Wolfson School of Health Sciences, Thames Valley University, London W5 5RF

    The British government's announcement that it will establish a new Food Safety Council and appoint a Food Safety Adviser1 has received a cautious welcome. However, the decision that both offices will be accountable to ministers while, at the same time, being independent, has rekindled the argument about how independent such bodies can be.2

    Complete independence from government is almost impossible. Bodies must be appointed and funded by someone with authority to spend public money. Most democracies balance accountability and independence by taking advantage of the separation of the powers of the executive (ministers), the legislature (parliament), and the judiciary. Bodies tackling potentially controversial issues, which must provide authoritative advice and retain public confidence, can be accountable to the legislature, giving them freedom to challenge, where necessary, the executive. A second model is based on decentralisation, with local and national government as more equal partners.

    The United States Food and Drug Administration, accountable to Congress, is often considered …

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