A ruling has recently been handed down in the Friends of the Earth (FoE) judicial review against the FSA over its handling of the recent discovery of GMO-contaminated long grain rice unapproved for human consumption in the EU market.

FoE sought a declaration that the FSA had not met its legal obligations by failing to take action to check for the presence of any contaminated rice in the UK and that the agency should have done more to work with local authorities and the food industry to ensure any illegal contaminated rice was detected and removed from retailers’ shelves.

The court declined to grant FoE the declaration sought, stating that FoE had not presented sufficient evidence to justify its claims and that agencies such as the FSA had to be granted a margin within which they were allowed to make their own decisions, and to some extent their own mistakes, without legal sanction. However, a number of comments were made in the judgment on the need for improvements in the way the FSA approaches incidents of this type in the future. In particular, the court felt that: it was arguable that the FSA ‘could and should have acted more quickly and firmly’ in respect of providing guidance to the relevant local authorities and in giving effect to Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release of GMOs into the environment; and the FSA should have taken steps to identify the particular code numbers of batches of rice that had been found to be contaminated ‘so that retailers and others could decide whether they wished to run the risk that they had contaminated rice on their shelves and therefore run the risk of prosecution, and local authority personnel on visits to such premises would have known what to look for and, indeed, concerned members of the public could then decide for themselves whether they wished to take the ‘risk of the risk’ which still applies’.

The FSA is expected to commence an internal review of how it handled the situation in light of the comments made.