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The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority

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Summary

Background and goal of the investigation

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority was established on 1 January 2004. It took over responsibility for the tasks of the Norwegian Food Control Authority, the municipal food control authorities, the Directorate of Fisheries' control of seafood, the Norwegian Animal Health Inspectorate and the Norwegian Agricultural Inspectorate. Administratively, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority is organised under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, but it also administers areas of responsibility on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority is a decentralised agency with one head office, eight regional offices and 54 district offices.

The goal of the Office of the Auditor General's investigation was to assess the extent to which the Food Safety Authority's practices are uniform and whether its establishment has resulted in the expected rationalisation gains.

Method

Using hypothetical cases, it has been investigated whether the Food Safety Authority's case processing is uniform. The district and regional offices were sent identical cases. The cases were quality-assured in advance by the Food Safety Authority's head office.

Document analysis and interviews were also carried out. Statistics were obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, from propositions and reports to the Storting, from annual reports and from Statistics Norway.

Results

The investigation shows that there is significant variation in the decisions made by the district and regional offices in inspection, approval and appeal cases. With reference to equal treatment as an important principle in public administration, the great variations that the investigation found in the agency's treatment of identical cases is seen as unfortunate. Individuals and businesses are affected by the Food Safety Authority's case processing, and there is a risk of unequal conditions depending on where in Norway they are located. It also increases the risk that businesses will suffer financial losses and loss of reputation without reason. The differences in the processing of identical cases also increase the risk that the Norwegian Food Safety Authority will fail to implement measures that are necessary on health or animal welfare grounds.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority regards its supervision system MATS as being its most important aid in relation to ensuring uniform supervisory activity and rationalisation. Despite the fact that development of this system has been completed, the investigation shows that documents prepared in MATS are not always stored correctly in the electronic archive system. Several of the district and regional offices therefore spend time filing paper copies in order to ensure that they have the correct version of the documents. The district offices feel that MATS has major problems that mean that it is not very user friendly, which in turn leads to case processing taking longer.

A review of the development of costs in the Norwegian Food Safety Authority during the period 2004 to 2008 shows that the establishment of the Authority has led to a reduction in the Food Safety Authority's net operating expenses seen in relation to the costs of the merged supervisory agencies, but the investigation does not give grounds for concluding that the expected cost reduction of 10 per cent has been achieved. The investigation shows that part of the cost reduction is due to a reduction in restructuring funds. Restructuring funds are extraordinary expenses relating to the establishment of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, and a reduction in extraordinary expenses is not evidence of rationalisation of ordinary operations compared with the operation of the former supervisory agencies. It has been difficult to determine the size of the cost reduction in the Norwegian Food Safety Authority because restructuring funds were partly recognised as operating expenses during the period 2004 to 2008.

In the investigation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is requested to improve the quality of management information from the Food Safety Authority. It is necessary to establish performance indicators for uniform supervisory activity and to improve the quality of the figures in the Norwegian Food Safety Authority's reporting.

Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843