Congratulations to Heather Hancock on her appointment, from April Fools’ Day, as Chair of the Food Standards Agency. The appointment involves a time commitment of 2 to 3 days per week and remuneration at a rate of £60,000 per annum.
The Food Standards Agency is a non-ministerial government department (as is Forestry Commission), which says about itself:
‘It’s our job to use our expertise and influence so that people can trust that the food they buy and eat is safe and honest. Our work touches everyone in the country. We all eat.’
One of the hot potatoes in the lap of the FSA is the subject of lead in game meat. The Lead Ammunition Group was set up by the FSA and Defra in 2010 to advise on the wildlife and human health risks of lead ammunition use. Despite this, the FSA has still failed to update its advice to eaters of game meat in line with what it told the LAG (in October 2012) it would do and was criticised in the minutes of the last LAG meeting.
But never fear, Mrs Hancock says ‘I will be focusing on strengthening our relationships with business, with an absolute commitment to pursuing those who wilfully and maliciously risk food safety and authenticity, and being an advocate for consumers, their food needs and food fears.’. Might that include those who wilfully shoot a poison into our food unnecessarily since non-toxic alternatives exist, and then flog this food as game to eat?
And so it comes as an interesting revelation that Heather Hancock is married to grouse moor owner, and Moorland Association member, Mark (Herbie) Hancock. Mr Hancock is a keen grouse shooter and the Countryside Alliance made a film on his grouse moor with chef Lee Maycock (and Amanda Anderson in quite a hat). I am told that Mrs Hancock was present during the filming of this family day of walked up shooting.
Although her husband is unusually ‘loquacious’ about the benefits of grouse shooting and owns or leases 2000 acres of moorland in Littondale and Upper Wharfedale, Mrs Hancock is quite coy about this family interest on the FSA website steering clear of the words grouse and moorland. She says that the family business, Amerdale, ‘owns some agricultural land and shooting rights. Amerdale does not actively farm.’ and ‘With my husband, I own some upland agricultural land in the Yorkshire Dales, and we are in receipt of Higher Level Stewardship Grant. We do not farm: the grazing rights are let.‘. I don’t think that the public would grasp the enthusiasm with which the Hancock family embraces grouse shooting from those brief tangential mentions and I guess that even 2000 acres is ‘some’.
Mrs Hancock was the Chair of the BBC Rural Affairs Committee when I was a member of it ages ago, and she wrote a slightly odd report on the BBC’s rural coverage in the summer of 2014 which quoted the editor of Shooting Times magazine and Tim Baynes of Scottish Land and Estates amongst other people. Mrs Hancock wrote ‘I heard from stakeholders who felt strongly that their work, managing the uplands, was a significant contribution to the quality of the UK landscape and to biodiversity – yet felt that this was neither understood nor reflected by the BBC. They were suspicious that the BBC had scant empathy for or interest in the perspectives of rural landowners.‘. Well, yes Heather, of course you heard that from your mates.