This last Thursday, June 11, 2009, I had the pleasure (and honor) of presenting at the 2009 Conference on Law of Food and Drink, sponsored by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. The program of presentations was interesting and, for me, quite informative. (For a look at the program, see here: www.biicl.org/files/4231_programme_11.06.pdf
One of the highlights, was the Keynote Speech by Dame Deirdre Hutton, the current chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Britain. Although the FSA can be compared to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, or the parts of the FDA responsible for food safety, it is really more like the U.S. Federal Reserve, because it is an independent agency. As described on its website, (which can be found here, www.food.gov.uk/aboutus/how_we_work/#h_2):
Although the FSA is a Government agency, it works at ‘arm’s length’ from Government because it doesn’t report to a specific minister and is free to publish any advice it issues.
The Agency is led by a Board that has been appointed to act in the public interest and not to represent particular sectors. Board members have a wide range of relevant skills and experience.
We base our decisions and advice on the best evidence available. And we aim to ensure that our decision-making process is as open and transparent in as possible.
Whenever possible, we seek the views of interested parties before reaching conclusions, and always explain the reasons for its decision and advice in a straightforward manner.
The Agency also obtains independent expert advice from its scientific advisory committees and commissions research to support its functions.
Imagine that–an independent agency that makes evidence-based decisions in the public interest, without regard to the private interests of industry, or to the government politics of the moment. Now that is certainly a model that the U.S. should think of following.