Triennial review of six FSA Scientific Advisory Committees

Last updated:
24 March 2016
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We have today published a review of our six Scientific Advisory Committees (SACs), which was carried out to ensure the FSA continues to get the best independent expert scientific advice to support its work.

The findings of the review have been accepted by the FSA Board and by the Cabinet Office. The review covers the following six SACs, which provide the FSA with independent expert advice on food risks and on the FSA’s use of scientific evidence:

  • The General Advisory Committee on Science (GACS)
  • The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT)
  • The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF)
  • The Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF)
  • The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP)
  • The Social Science Research Committee (SSRC)

Amongst the eight recommendations, the review concluded that the role of providing independent, high-level advice and challenge on FSA’s use of science should pass from the GACS to a new Science Council. This mirrors similar models in other Government departments.

It is also recommends that the FSA should consult on moving the functions of the ACNFP and ACAF into a new committee, with a wider remit on innovation in the food chain. This would be established by December 2017. The SSRC will work as an expert committee of FSA, focusing on providing advice and challenge on how FSA can use social sciences to deliver its strategic priorities. The ACMSF and COT will retain their current structure and function.

The review reinforces the importance of ensuring that the advisory committees continue to operate to the established high standards of independence, openness and transparency. This includes holding open meetings and publishing papers, minutes and reports, and having access to FSA officials and the Board.

Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser at the FSA, said: 'The work of the SACs is absolutely fundamental to the FSA in assuring that it is properly informed by the best scientific advice.

'The review is very timely, as the FSA has recently introduced a new science governance model and organisational strategy. The review started with a blank sheet of paper to recommend how we get the best independent science and evidence to deliver our priorities over the coming years.

'These recommendations will ensure that the FSA can continue to access and use this expert advice effectively in the areas where we need to deliver our strategy for the future.'

Tim Bennett, FSA Chair, said: 'The current SACs have been indispensable in providing us with independent scientific evidence and challenge. They have been at the heart of the FSA’s science-based model which is highly regarded across Government and around the world. The review confirms a clear future demand for independent, high-level expert advice to provide insight, challenge and support to the FSA on its future use of science.'

The review was initiated as part of a Cabinet Office programme of reviews by Government departments of their non-governmental advisory bodies, to ensure they are efficient and fit for purpose. It was carried out with the participation of a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, including the committee’s Chair and members and the FSA Chief Scientific Adviser.

Summary of recommendations

The review concluded that:

  • The FSA should follow similar models in other Government departments with external Chief Scientific Advisers, and replace the GACS (established in 2007 to provide independent advice and challenge to FSA’s then internal Chief Scientist) with a Science Council.
  • The advisory risk assessment functions of the ACNFP and the ACAF should move to a new committee within the framework of a wider remit on innovation in the food chain, to be established by December 2017.
  • The functions performed by the ACMSF and COT are still required and they should be retained as advisory Non-Departmental public Bodies.
  • The SSRC should be an expert committee of FSA, focusing on providing strategic support, scientific advice and challenge which will inform the FSA in delivery of its strategic objectives and help it understand its impact, reflecting the priorities in the new FSA Strategic Plan.
  • All the FSA’s SACs, including the new Committee on Innovation in the Food Chain and the new FSA Science Council, should to meet the established high standards of independence, openness and transparency, including holding open meetings and publishing papers, minutes and reports.
  • A number of areas of good practice were also identified by the review, and a further four recommendations are made about how to improve the efficiency and impact of the future SACs work and to ensure they continue to meet the highest standards of governance. These can be viewed in the full report.