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The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) cannot respond to the growing number and complexity of food safety risks without additional resourcing, and its position is being “eroded”, heard a special meeting of its board.
The FSAI is responsible for a range of functions to ensure food safety, including managing risks in the food chain and responding effectively to any national or international food incident or crisis.
A board meeting in November 2020 was convened to discuss submitted papers and address questions surrounding risks and opportunities, strategy, and priorities for 2021, given resourcing constraints and “changes in the FSAI’s environment”.
According to meeting minutes: “It was clarified that without additional resources we would not be in a position to keep up with the changing, growing number and complexity of food safety risks. It was stated that this was resulting in the FSAI’s position being eroded. It was requested that a review of the FSAI’s funding model be undertaken to assess whether other income streams were feasible.”
A spokesperson for the FSAI told the Medical Independent (MI): “The FSAI received an incremental increase in funding in 2021, over the 2020 figure, which will be used to meet its regulatory and core obligations. Given the continuing increase in food alerts and the reactive work which the FSAI is required to address, it will continue to carefully manage its available resources to ensure that consumer protection is the focus of its activities in 2021.”
In 2020, MI reported that internal concerns had been expressed about the “viability” of the FSAI. In February 2020, FSAI CEO Dr Pamela Byrne told the board the “ongoing funding situation” was having a “significant impact upon the activities of the organisation and the morale of staff”.
There were “considerable risks to the FSAI and the consumer” due to the funding situation, noted the minutes.
The board discussed a letter from the Chair of the audit and risk committee regarding the “stark funding situation and the concern over the viability of the FSAI”.
A spokesperson at the time informed MI that funding and resourcing constraints arose from the costs of pay restoration, non-pay-related Brexit activities, and an increase in the resources required to meet legal obligations. Meanwhile, the FSAI reported in March that, in collaboration with its official agencies, investigations were carried out into 47 unregistered food businesses in 2020, compared to 19 in 2019. These unregistered food businesses were operating illegally without the knowledge or supervision of the competent authorities.
Some were established in domestic kitchens or private dwellings with inadequate food safety measures, as a result of the temporary closure of the food business in which the people were employed due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Separately, the FSAI issued 167 food alerts and food allergen alerts in 2020, compared to 107 in 2019.