GOVERNMENT plans to finance the new Food Standards Agency with a fixed charge on food retailers has been denounced by an East Lancashire MP.

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans described the proposed charge as a "poll tax" and claimed it would be "grossly unfair."

Under the new scheme, food outlets from corner shops to supermarkets will pay the fixed charge.

But the young Tory, who grew up in a family grocers in Swansea, said the scheme would place a disproportionate burden on small businesses while supermarkets and large food chains would hardly notice the cost.

He said: "While I welcome the setting up of a Food Standards Agency, I have grave reservations about the way it will be funded. The Government plans to levy a flat charge on every shop in order to pay for the agency, but this sort of tax is grossly unfair.

"The food scares over BSE, salmonella, sheep and salmon illustrate the importance of a well-funded Food Standards Agency with wide-ranging powers to enforce food hygiene standards. But its credibility will be undermined by Government penny-pinching."

He called for a "sane approach to food hygiene" and warned against "knee-jerk reactions to food scares."

"The Food Standards Agency must maintain the confidence of producers, suppliers and the general public. A sure-fire way to damage this confidence is to alienate those who fund it by imposing an unfair funding system," he added.

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