Last updated on 2 May 2012
Note of meeting of the Consumer Stakeholder Forum: 17 November 2010
Meeting held at Aviation House, 125 Kingsway, Holborn, London WC2B 6NH
Lynne Regent, Anaphylaxis Campaign UK
Jennie Bibbings, Consumer Focus Wales
Patience Purdy, National Council of Women of Great Britain
Jeanette Longfield, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming
Liz Barling, Food Ethics Council
Paul Whaley, Cancer Prevention & Education Society
Stella Nicholas, National Consumer Federation
Lynn Strother, Greater London Forum for Older People
Paul Whaley, Cancer Prevention & Education Society
Michele Danan, Compassion in World Farming
Food Standards Agency
Tim J Smith, Chief Executive
Andrew Rhodes, Director of Operations Group
Terrence Collis, Director of Communications
Stephen Humphreys, Head of External Affairs and Consumer Engagement
Sarah Appleby, Enforcement and Local Authority Delivery
Catriona Stewart, Enforcement and Local Authority Delivery
Patrick Miller, Chief Scientist Team
Jane Ince, Chief Scientist Team
Jane Seymour, Communications, Web and Editorial
Sandy Lawrie, Chemical Contaminants and Novel Foods Division
Andy Spencer, Chemical Contaminants and Novel Foods Division
Pippa Eames, External Affairs and Consumer Engagement (Secretariat)
Welcome and introduction:
Tim Smith (TS) welcomed all to the meeting, with a special welcome to Paul Whaley (Cancer Prevention & Education Society), Jennie Bibbings (Consumer Focus Wales) and Michele Danan (Compassion in World Farming) as new to the meeting.
Apologies were received from Tom MacMillan (Food Ethics Council), Jamie Page, (Cancer Prevention & Education Society), Steve Nash (Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome Help), David Bowles and Julia Wrathall (RSPCA), Charlie Powell (Sustain), Andrew Tyler and Kate Fowler (Animal Aid), Rachel Barber (National Federation of Women's Institutes), Duncan Williamson (WWF), Mette Khalin (Which?), Helen Haggart (Cancer Research UK), and Margit Physant (Age UK). In several cases alternative delegates from these organisations attended.
TS stated that there have been a number of significant changes since the last meeting of the forum and that this meeting provides a timely opportunity to discuss these changes, and the challenges and opportunities these present.
TS emphasised the important of receiving feedback from members on the structure of the meeting, stating that input from members was needed when developing the agenda to ensure it is useful and constructive for all involved. In addition, TS urged that attendees sought input from their members that they represent.
TS asked members to note that Consensus Action on Salt and Health, National Heart Forum and British Heart Foundation have notified the Agency that they will no longer be attending meetings of this forum following the move of nutrition responsibilities in England to Department of Health.
Minutes and matters arising
Stephen Humphreys (SH) stated that the draft minute of the last meeting had been published on the FSA website and had been circulated to members for comment. SH confirmed that comments had been received and that these had been incorporated into the document.
7. The Group agreed that the minute was an accurate record of the meeting.
Organisational and financial update:
TS summarised the machinery of Government changes that have taken place since the General Election. TS noted the move of Nutrition Policy in England to the Department of Health and the move of all non-safety and non-nutrition Labelling and Standards in England to the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). TS also noted that Nutrition Policy had transferred to the Welsh Assembly Government and that no changes had taken place to arrangements in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Patience Purdy (PP) asked whether the change in organisational structure would change the relationship the Agency has with consumers. TS commented that the changes would make it more difficult to engage with consumer bodies as they now effectively had to engage with several bodies on matters relating to food. TS said that it was important that the Agency was clear about what it did.
Terrence Collis (TC) advised that with the existing marketing freeze in place, the Agency had to look to new ways of communicating key messages to consumers.
Jeanette Longfield (JL) asked whether any legislative changes needed to be made following the restructure. TS advised that legally there was no need – the broader definition of FSA responsibilities allowed for a narrower interpretation.
TS also discussed briefly the financial pressures that the FSA would face in the future. FSA’s annual budget allocation from Westminster by 2014-15 will be £94.8 million. Excluding inflation this is a real terms reduction of £28.8 million over the four-year period. In percentage terms it is a 33 percent cut in our admin budgets and 25 percent in our programme budget. TS reported that the FSA has established an Efficiency Board to find significant efficiency savings in all FSA functions. Impact on front line services will be kept to a minimum so that the FSA can continue to fulfil its statutory duties. We will not compromise on food safety.
TS also welcomed Andrew Rhodes as Director of Operations Group and Alison Gleadle as Director of Food Safety.
Operations Group update:
Andrew Rhodes (AR) provided an update to the Group on the merger of the Meat Hygiene Service and FSA on 1 April 2010 which created the FSA Operations Group. It is made up of the Agency’s operational delivery functions including meat hygiene, wine standards, egg hygiene, dairy hygiene and shellfish harvesting monitoring. The Group also includes the Enforcement and Local Authority Delivery Division (ELADD), the Local Authority Audit & Liaison Division (LAALD), the regional presence unit s (RPU) and is also responsible for operational delivery functions carried out in the devolved offices.
AR outlined the plans for a comprehensive review of the operations group, which will cover all Official Controls in the UK, whether we deliver these controls or they are delivered by other agencies on our behalf. There are 2 key elements to the review:
- To review what we are currently delivering
- To develop the future structure and delivery arrangements
AR went on to provide an update on CCTV in slaughterhouses. AR emphasised that whilst a responsibility of DEFRA, delivery was conducted by the FSA and the FSA takes animal welfare responsibilities seriously, particularly in light of the level of consumer concern in this area.
Jennie Bibbings (JB) welcomed the move to have CCTV installed and asked whether there was a view on making the use of CCTV a condition or a voluntary measure. TS confirmed that the FSA was gathering evidence. Approximately 85% of food goes through the four large retailers so they have an important part to play in any approach. Michele Danan (MD) agreed that this was a positive move and asked what the Agency was doing to make sure it did happen?
AR confirmed that it is not possible to mandate CCTV use, however felt confident that the right steps were being taken and that food businesses would share the footage when asked. AR confirmed that action was taken against all the slaughter men whose actions gave rise to concern in the footage from filming captured by Animal Aid.
In October FSA Board discussed the Agency’s actions in encouraging food businesses to install CCTV. There was broad support from the Board for using CCTV as a tool, but it was not considered to be the only solution to preventing animal welfare abuses. There was overwhelming Board agreement that it is the responsibility of Food Business Operators to comply with legislation – neither the presence of CCTV nor the presence of FSA staff would be an excuse for a food business not taking their animal welfare responsibilities seriously. The Board agreed the Agency needs to gather a body of evidence from all sources, including those businesses that are already using CCTV, to determine how useful a tool CCTV could be.
Cloning and Novel Food Regulations:
TS introduced Sandy Lawrie (SL) to discuss the incident in August, current and future legislation and the Board meeting discussion on this subject in September in relation to cloning and novel food regulations. SL explained that press reports in August 2010 alleged that milk from the offspring of at least one cloned cow entered the UK milk supply, in apparent contravention of the EU regulation on novel foods. Eight animals were born in the UK in 2006/7 from imported embryos that were produced from the clone of a champion Holstein cow in the USA. The Agency has traced the movements of these animals and their subsequent progeny. Meat from two of the original 8 animals and from one of their offspring was found to have entered the food supply in 2009/10 (two in the UK, one exported to Belgium). The relevant farmers have given assurances that no milk has entered the food supply
SL advised that the Agency’s position was that it should not attempt to regulate any process or practice which cannot be traced or measured to an acceptable level of confidence. In this case it would be disproportionate to try to establish a monitoring process (whose purpose would be to ensure the safest possible food), where there is no discernible risk and with the knowledge that it would only be feasible for a very small proportion of the market. In the absence of traceability, the only other option would be a ban which the Agency feels is inappropriate given the current evidence of risk to human health.
MD said there needed to be clarity on the issue of cloning as it is something that consumers care about. A recent Eurobarometer study found that 73% of EU citizens are against cloning. MD said that there needs to be greater traceability and is against allowing offspring of cloned animals into the foodchain.
Lynn Strother (LS) emphasised the point that consumers are very concerned about health implications of consuming milk and meat products that have been cloned.
LS and PP questioned whether the science was there to be confident either way. TS confirmed that it is the role of the scientific committees to link into this and noted that the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes would be discussing the safety of cloned meat at their meeting on 25th November 2010.
The Board will advise agriculture ministers that they should commission the appropriate bodies to investigate further the ethical and welfare concerns that have been an important feature of consumer concerns. The FSA would be keen to be involved in any consumer dialogue.
Stella Nicholas (SN) noted that she felt a little let down following the recent stakeholder meeting, mentioning the lack of Government consistency on this.
JL noted that, at that stakeholder meeting on 11th August, consumer groups had asked whether there would be a prosecution, given that the law had been broken and unauthorised, cloned meat had been allowed into the food supply. We were advised, at that meeting, that this would be a matter for the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, and JL asked if there had been any developments in the last few months. The FSA did not have any further information, but agreed to find out and let participants know. Action: FSA
Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS):
TS welcomed the strong support in Lord Young’s report for FHRS and highlighted that the Agency is pleased that he recognises the clear benefits to having a single national scheme. TS invited Catriona Stewart (CS) to provide an update on the national FHRS. CS explained that LAs started to roll out the scheme this autumn (all Welsh LAs on 1 October and a number in England) and we expect more to join over the coming months and throughout next year. However it will be a staged and gradual roll out.
JB welcomed the recommendations made in Lord Young’s report and urged that the FSA continue to work with LAs to encourage uptake of the scheme. JB asked when the review into making the scheme mandatory would be, including the mandatory display of stickers.
CS explained that FSA is committed to providing the IT for publishing ratings and a range of support to LAs operating the FHRS so that the impact (including costs) of participation - whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis – will be minimised. On mandatory display of ratings at premises – Lord Young’s recommendation is in line with what our Board agreed in 2008 – we should test the voluntary approach first. A review in April 2012 provides a reasonable timescale for assessing the effectiveness of this.
TC explained that consumers needed to increase the pressure on LAs and businesses. On Tuesday 30 November the FSA, in partnership with the local authority and businesses, will be using the launch of the scheme at Bluewater Shopping Centre in Dartford, Kent, as a platform for promoting the national scheme.
LS offered to assist in publicising the scheme through the dissemination of information. CS welcomed this and agreed to be in touch.
Bisphenol A (BPA):
TS introduced Andy Spencer (AS) to provide an update on BPA. BPA is a chemical that is mainly used in combination with other chemicals to manufacture plastics and resins. It can be found in all sorts of products, from car headlights to food storage containers and infant feeding (baby) bottles.
AS explained that the European Commission are investigating options to address consumer concerns surrounding BPA and reduce infant’s exposure to BPA from polycarbonate baby bottles following EFSA’s latest opinion. EFSA issued its latest opinion on the safety of BPA on 30th September 2010 based upon their review of recent scientific literature and studies on the toxicity of BPA at low doses. EFSA’s expert panel of scientists concluded that they could not identify any new evidence that would lead them to revise the current tolerable daily intake for BPA. This latest opinion on BPA confirms the TDI set in 2006 by EFSA, and re-confirmed by them in 2008.
A number of Member States have indicated that they would support a ban (as has Canada). TS explained that although the science does not support a ban, the FSA acknowledges the political and societal pressures being brought to bear on BPA. How the UK would vote on a proposed ban is a decision for ministers, a position has yet been agreed. The Agency will be undertaking a formal consultation to seek consumer’s views on reducing infant’s exposure to BPA should the Commission propose legislation for a ban.
Paul Whaley (PW) emphasised the importance of having clear processes in place to ensure that different bodies reviewing science have a consistent approach. PW updated the group on discussions taking place at the moment into the use of evidence. Patrick Miller (PM) suggested that he have more detailed discussions on this matter with PW outside of this meeting. PW encouraged the Agency to ensure that it remains open and transparent with how decisions about the use of science are made.
PP asked whether the Agency was looking into the risk that microwaveable plastics may cause. AS advised that yes, the Agency reviewed the safety of all contact materials. In this case, the level of migration of any substances was still in line with the tolerable intake.
Climate change report:
Jane Ince (JI) provided an update on the recently published climate change report. The FSA published on 21st October 2010 a report looking at possible implications of climate change on food policy in the UK. The review, carried out by the University of East Anglia for the Food Standards Agency, examines the impact of climate change on areas including food safety and nutrition. The survey findings are based on interviews with experts and a review of existing research into climate change.
The review suggests food risks will be increasingly unpredictable as agricultural methods adapt to climate change and food is sourced from alternative producers. The incidence of food borne infections may alter, however mechanisms are in place to detect such changes and to respond to protect public health. The Agency will now look at all of the findings and consider the implications for UK food policy.
JL asked what the Agency will do differently in light of the report. JI explained that the Agency would discuss findings with other Government departments. A key issue for the Agency is to ensure, through monitoring and advice, that food safety is maintained as the effects of climate change emerge. PM advised that this report was only one element of work taking place across Government looking into climate change and food security and that this research reinforced what we already know.
Eatwell and Communicating with Consumers:
Jane Seymour explained that the Government’s websites are increasingly under pressure on grounds of costs but crucially on making them easier for people to find information and sites built to a standard that makes them usable and accessible for everyone. The past four years have seen increasing activity from the Cabinet Office in this area to drive forward the agenda resulting in many sites being closed under the rationalisation programme. Business Link has been created as the site for businesses and more than 20 cross-Government standards put in place and central reporting published on them and costs. There are two consumer ‘supersites’. Direct Gov is the site of choice for consumer services and NHS Choices. All consumer content is to go on one of these. As a result, the Agency’s Eatwell site will be closed down in the New Year.
We are currently working with NHS Choices to ensure that as much of our consumer content as possible is on that site and so kept together. They already have a fair degree of our content so we hope that there will be a coherent consumer friendly site that people can still browse for food information. Losing eatwell does not mean that we lose our commitment to providing information and advice for consumers: we remain committed to ensuring that the top levels of food.gov.uk are written in a clear understandable style, ensuring our work is open and transparent.
JL emphasised her disappointment at the closure of the Integrated Advice to Consumers (IAC) project. JS agreed to send JL contact details of colleagues in Defra.
LS asked the FSA how it communicates with consumers that do not have access to the internet, which is likely to increase in this current economic climate. TC agreed this is a very important issue and something that the Agency needs to consider and flagged up the importance of working with organisations to disseminate information to consumers.
Any Other Business:
SH provided an update on the removal of aspartame from food and drink:
The Food Standards Agency has commissioned the University of Hull to conduct a double-blind placebo controlled study. This study will determine whether the alleged anecdotal effects can be reproduced in a clinical setting and the results will increase our understanding of what may be happening. Volunteers are coming forward to participate in the FSA-funded study more slowly than anticipated. As such the FSA is currently negotiating with the contractors to extend the end date for this work by six months at no additional cost. It is anticipated that the study will now complete in summer 2011.To date 23 aspartame sensitive individuals and 23 age and sex matched controls have completed the study. We do not anticipate that delaying the conclusion will undermine industry and consumer confidence, whereas terminating the study with insufficient numbers of participants would undermine confidence as no conclusions could then be drawn from this work.
SH provided an update on monitoring of eggs for chemical contamination e.g. Dioxins:
The Agency does not have a regular monitoring programme for chemical contaminants such as dioxins in foods. Any routine testing would fall within the responsibility of Local and Port Health Authorities, which are the enforcement bodies for food safety. Instead, the Agency directs its resources towards monitoring and investigating areas of potential risk. This includes periodic surveys and research to ensure we have up-to-date information on the levels of potentially harmful contaminants, including dioxins, in relevant foods and in the general UK diet, as well as data on food consumption to allow us to conduct robust exposure estimates. When foods with a high risk of chemical contamination are identified, advice is issued to the enforcement bodies which they can take into account in prioritising their monitoring programmes. However, previous investigations have not indicated eggs to be a significant concern with regard to dioxin contamination.
SH responded to the question raised by PW into whether there was a body in the UK which is ensuring that total exposure to contaminants does not exceed safe levels:
There is not a single body with this responsibility. However, the FSA routinely considers information on other sources of exposure when assessing risks from chemicals in food, and limits are set accordingly, where appropriate.
With regards to foodstuffs, the Agency will carry out individual risk assessments, for example where there is an ‘incident’. However, where limits are specified these tend to be set at a European level, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carrying out the risk assessment and then the member states, via the EC determining the risk management options.
SH provided an update on Antimicrobial resistance and the food chain:
We recognise that the problem of antimicrobial resistance is an important public health issue and that concerns have been raised about the contribution of the food chain to this problem. We are addressing this on a number of fronts, including ensuring that our activities in this area are co-ordinated with that of other departments and agencies to maximise the Government’s effort to protect public health and funding research on the issue to plug key gaps in our knowledge (e.g. specific work on ESBLs in food, screening for drug resistant bacteria in surveys). The Agency’s foodborne disease strategy work should also help through reducing contamination in the food chain and encouraging best practice in the kitchen.
JL noted that development of a specific strategy on antimicrobial resistance in the food chain had been announced in an FSA press release on 17th August 2009. This press release was issued to note the publication of the report of a meeting on this subject held by the FSA in November 2007. JL wondered when the strategy might finally emerge. The FSA noted that this will be considered alongside other priorities in our renewed strategic plan. It was agreed that additional information on this would be sent to JL.
Date of Next Meeting
The next meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 15 June 2011 at 12:30 to 15:00.