‘What is it about those three letters ‘FSA’ that make you want to shake your head in disbelief?’

14:43 27 February 2013

Lance Forman who manages the 107 year-old family firm

Lance Forman who manages the 107 year-old family firm


Lance Forman, Forman & Field

What is it about those three letters ‘FSA’ that make you want to shake your head in disbelief? And I’m not talking about a Flying Saucer Attack.

First we have the Financial Services Authority. In order to regulate an industry and protect savers and investors from the excesses of the market, they set about ensuring that at any time you might want to invest in any product, large or small, risky or not risky, no such investment could take place unless you, the investor, could prove your identity with a copy of a utility bill and passport or driver’s license. Whilst this mighty regularity body focussed on seemingly pointless paperwork and box ticking, which anyone intent on fraud could easily have obviated, the entire financial system almost collapsed around it.

Now we have the other FSA, the Food Standards Agency. So fixated with the multiplicity of rules and regulations, seemingly to protect consumers against unhealthy food, they have allowed a food regime to evolve which is not what it says on the label, literally. Last week, the Food Minister said that the horsemeat scandal was an issue of food fraud, but not about food health risk. Is he in the real world? If a food producer is happy to sell horse as beef, or pork as chicken, why would they feel an urge to be more honest about their food hygiene standards, if this could make them additional cost savings.

The problem with the food industry today, like so many other industries, is that there are too many costly rules and regulations and rather than building business relationships on trust, honesty, close supply partnerships and loyalty, they are built on meaningless pieces of paper, too much pressure to seek out the cheapest deal and far too much box ticking.

Producers supplying into supermarkets are usually asked to be compliant with BRC, the British Retail Consortium, as a mark of quality. The reality is, that this is not about quality but about consistency. You can produce an unhealthy, obese-creating, sugar -loaded product, full of e-numbers and still get BRC accreditation, providing the dreadful product you produce is consistently dreadful.

Food manufacturers tick boxes to show that they have cleaned floors, checked the temperatures of fridges and so on, even though in reality, they may not actually do these tasks. Next time you go into a fast food restaurant WC – check the loo cleaning schedule and you will often find the 10.30am shift is ticked at 9.00am, before it’s even been done. We live in a world where it’s all about the paperwork to ‘prove’ what has been done, so that everyone can cover their backs when it all goes horribly wrong and the legal claims start flying. If firms spent more time actually cleaning floors rather than ticking boxes saying they’d cleaned them, we’d have real progress.

Perhaps the Free Syrian Army will get it right.


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