Daily Mirror Jun 6 2003


By Gary Jones

NEW claims that the Government "sexes up" official reports have been
obtained by the Daily Mirror.

Leaked papers from the Food Standards Agency accuse the Cabinet Office of
"changing the content" of reports and misleading the public.

Senior civil servants at the independent watchdog express alarm about the
"spin" put on reports.

And the FSA is so concerned it has taken steps to hide its findings from the
Cabinet Office.

It follows accusations that the Government's Iraqi weapons dossier was
exaggerated to make it "sexier".

In an internal FSA review sent to the Mirror from a source in the agency, officials say they fear documents have been doctored.

A damning comment by one of the report's authors says: "The amendments we
saw contained substantial corrections despite officials having no knowledge
of the subject areas they were amending and consequently changing the

"While officials were shown amendments, Cabinet Office maintained editorial

"There are opportunities for political spin to be added to briefings. Amendments to briefings could therefore affect the public's perception of
our independence."

The FSA, chaired by Sir John Krebs, wants to avoid the Cabinet Office having editorial input into briefings. An FSA source said: "There's a lack of trust of Government machinery.

"Protecting our integrity can only be done if we control what information is put out to the public.

"Computer systems are being put in place for us to keep what at times are sensitive briefings to ourselves."

In the report, senior FSA staff expressed reservations about being linked to the Government "knowledge network", a computerised information and rebuttal system used to keep Whitehall on message.

Many civil servants believe it gives the Cabinet Office too much power to put out what they want rather than a department's version.

Dr Stephen Johnson and Alison Asquith, authors of the Review of Food Agency Information Management System, say they have considered whether FSA briefings should be "uploaded" to the network. They say: "Officials responsible for that network edit contributions, allowing for the introduction of change of meaning or possibly even political spin."

The report states: "We recommend that the Food Agency Information Management System is not linked (to the network) until we are permitted editorial control over information entered into the system." It adds: "There is
general concern among the officials interviewed that only briefings aimed at
the public should be included on the knowledge network.

"Our concern for food safety and our independence of politics means sometimes our policies disagree with other government departments' policies and therefore briefing on these issues is considered too sensitive to be
seen outside the FSA."

An FSA worker said: "We cannot risk our reputation for independence. That would be a disaster. Quite simply we don't trust the Government to leave what we say alone."

A spokeswoman attempted to distance the FSA from some of the more critical comments. She said: "The agency does not have any evidence that the Cabinet Office adds 'political spin' to any briefings. "We now understand that some of what was written was inaccurate in relation to where editorial control of knowledge network material lies.

"However that would not change our judgment about remaining outside the network to avoid the risk of being perceived as having our independence compromised."

The Cabinet Office said: "Departments have sole control over any comment they publish on the knowledge network.

"Texts are reviewed by the Cabinet Office for considerations of space and style - that could be promoting plain English instead of technical language. They are then sent back to the departments for editing.

"There is no question of political spin. The officials who manage the knowledge network are civil servants and bound by the impartiality rules of the civil service code."

Lib Dem spokesman Andrew George said: "It is an outrage that the culture of interference and spin is running right through Government.

"Consumers need to feel there is an agency campaigning for their interests."