Ministers 'keeping advice on food secret'

THE Tories are demanding an urgent Commons statement over allegations that ministers are withholding Food Standards Agency advice from the public.

Last night's call follows the leaking of an agency document which states that because of disagreements on policy between the agency and other government departments, sensitive briefing documents should not be available on the Cabinet Office's Knowledge Network. This is a computerised information system that keeps the whole of Whitehall "on message". Agency officials also fear that any material given to the Cabinet Office might be subjected to "political spin".

David Lidington, the Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said that the revelation was "politically alarming". He said: "The allegation here is that some of the Food Standards Agency's advice is being withheld from the public. That would really be shocking. It is also clear that there are some recommendations from the agency that contradict current government policy. The public has a right to know what these cases are and if ministers have decided to reject food safety advice, then they should tell the public why."

He said if policy differences were being concealed, this would undermine the credibility of the agency as an independent organisation.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "There is no question of political spin and officials are bound by the Civil Service rules of impartiality. Text supplied is sometimes revised by the Cabinet Offices for considerations of space and style such as promoting plain English instead of technical language. Downing Street staff have access to the system but cannot change material."