I am pleased to announce that The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) will vest on 1 April 2009 as an executive agency of DEFRA.
FERA brings together the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), the UK Government Decontamination Service (GDS) the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI), Plant Varieties and Seeds Division (PVS) and Plant Health Division (PHD). It has a starting complement of 900 staff and will have an annual turnover of £72 million.
FERA’s purpose is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and professional advice, underpinned by world class research, to help DEFRA, other Government Departments and other stakeholders support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, and a healthy natural environment and protect the global community from deliberate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) or major accidental hazard material (HazMat) incidents.
As an executive agency of DEFRA, FERA plays an important role in helping to deliver the Department’s strategic priorities. These are to:
Secure a healthy natural environment for us all and deal with environmental risks;
Promote a sustainable, low-carbon and resource-efficient economy; and
Ensure a thriving farming sector and a sustainable, healthy and secure food supply.
It provides operational policy and regulation in support of these priorities, particularly in respect of plant and bee health, crop varieties and seeds. In addition, it undertakes and delivers high quality support and input into other regulatory issues relevant to its area of responsibility. FERA has responsibility to support Government in responding to and recovering from emergency situations, by providing relevant capability, scientific evidence, analysis and advice. Including the GDS in FERA enables a wider breadth and coherence of service offering to Government, and will enhance the national emergency response and recovery capability and UK resilience. It will also strengthen the science capability underpinning GDS functions and areas of expertise. FERA also provides research and development, advice and services to other public and private sector organisations on a commercial basis. The agency will have a remit to develop wider market opportunities alongside its work for Government. This will build on the skills that underpin its sustainable future and will maximize the value to the taxpayer of its unique knowledge and facilities.
FERA will work closely with other Government Departments and contribute to their PSAs. For example:
Climate change (Department for Energy and Climate Change).
Regional economic performance (Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform).
International poverty reduction and achieving MDGs (Department for International Development).
Counter-terrorism (Home Office).
Safer communities (Home Office).
Innovation and skills (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills).
Health and well-being (Department of Health).
Food safety, choice and healthy eating—support for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) strategic priorities.
Environment, sustainability and rural affairs (Welsh Assembly Government).
The agency will continue CSL’s established remit in supporting government and industry food security objectives. Through its scientific expertise FERA:
is recognised both nationally and internationally in the areas of food chain safety and quality, and food security. It is part of a national network of laboratories specifically established to respond to CBRN incidents, which might include malicious-accidental food contamination, and has national status as the UK National Reference Laboratory for the FSA and Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) for specific chemical analyses in food including dioxins, mycotoxins, trace elements and pesticides;
has a dedicated food safety and quality operation, which provides scientific capacity, capability and advice to underpin the food-related objectives of DEFRA, the FSA, Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD), VMD and other industry, and international stakeholders; and
has significant international influence with experts on European Food Safety Association (EFSA) panels, and is also heavily involved in European food research programmes. For example the agency is leading a major EU research project called TRACE on the traceability and authenticity of food. (More information at www.trace.eu.org/menu/project/).
FERA will continue to deliver the business functions and services that have been provided by its constituent parts. For example it will provide the following services to the agricultural and horticultural industries:
Plant clinic services—global pest and disease identification services.
LIAISON—contains information on registered agrochemical products for all UK crops.
IENICA—interactive European network for industrial crops and their applications.
BeeBase—information for beekeepers.
Certification schemes for seeds and propagating material.
Registration and breeders rights schemes for new plant varieties.
Proficiency testing schemes—FERA operates several schemes which provide the food, water, environment and plant health industries with assessments of the technical performance of their analysis laboratories.
Details of all its services are available on FERA’s website at: http://services.csl.gov.uk/fera
In the short term stakeholders should not be affected by the formation of FERA and will receive the same professional services they currently enjoy. As the new agency develops I expect to see stakeholders benefit from improved services in the following areas:
stakeholders have access to a “one-stop” service in support of sustainable agriculture and food safety;
scope for a more efficient and integrated approach to EU legislation, and therefore simpler, more cost-effective regulation;
co-location of policy and scientific databases, improved risk assessment, more seamless transfer of diagnostic results through integration of databases resulting in more rapid management action, and better, faster disease control at lower cost;
development of service provision in international consultancy, advice and training for the PVS and PHSI elements of the new agency as a result of greater critical mass and collaboration with CSL where expertise in these markets already exists; and
more cohesive approach to supporting and informing the central Government approach to developing CBRN related policies.
FERA will operate under the net control accounting regime. As an on-vote agency, FERA will be included within the annual report and consolidated accounts for DEFRA. It will have an annual turnover of £72 million. This includes the recently announced new funding for bee health of £4.3 million. FERA will be audited by the Auditor and Comptroller General and will produce its own annual report and accounts.
I have set the Food and Environment Research Agency the following performance targets for 2009-10:
Regulation, Policy and Risk
To develop plant variety and seed, and plant and bee health policies in order to help achieve the Government’s strategic priorities. To target activities, which reduce risks to commercial crop production and environment, assist trade facilitation and reduce regulatory burdens in accordance with Hampton principles.
Research and Assurance
To deliver outputs from applied research and monitoring/surveillance to deadline, which meet agreed quality standards and answer questions, and present them in a way that is useful to policy makers and other delivery bodies. To convert research outputs into innovative products and services.
To raise audit, risk management, security and quality standards and expectations. To deliver key outcomes against the 2006 science audit implementation.
Response and Recovery
To influence and deliver emergency response and recovery strategies and practical capability across the public sector, including ongoing assessment of supplier capability and capacity.
To consolidate the implementation of FERA, ensuring that stakeholders are fully informed of progress, and influence over and satisfaction levels for customers raised. To ensure that resources, including site accommodation and collaborative working, are maximised to best potential and meet benefits’ realisation and sustainability targets.
To recover the full economic costs of the agency’s services from Government Departments, agencies and external customers, ensuring delivery of efficiency targets.
Further details of FERA’s role and responsibilities are given in its corporate documents: the Framework Document, the Strategic Direction and Corporate Plan 2009-10 to 2011-12, and the Business Plan 2009-10. Copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House and will be published on the agency’s website at: