FSA News Item, 10 September 2004
The Food Standards Agency held an open Board meeting on Thursday 9 September
at the Brangwyn Hall, The Guildhall, Guildhall Rd South, Swansea.
Updates were given by Agency Chair Sir John Krebs, Deputy Chair Julia Unwin and Chief Executive Jon Bell on developments since the previous Board meetings.
Three main Board papers were discussed at the meeting: Review of the Over Thirty Months Rule - the future testing regime; Quality of data submitted by local authorities on food law enforcement activity - follow up report on progress; and MHAC Chair's annual report to the Board.
The Board also heard reports from the Chairs of the Advisory Committees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Agency Chair Sir John Krebs updated the Board on progress made on strengthening the governance of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS). He reminded the Board that a year previously the Agency had initiated a review of the relationship between the MHS and FSA as part of three strands of activity - the other two being a review of the roles and functions of the MHS and an efficiency review of the MHS.
The FSA Board had now agreed to the establishment of a governing board for the MHS, which would in effect be a sub-committee of the Board. The new body would be chaired by Board member Chrissie Dunn. The proposal had been put to the Secretary of State for Health and Ministers in the devolved administrations for their agreement, and a response was awaited.
Deputy Chair Julia Unwin said that Board members were aware that Sir John Krebs would be stepping down from his post as Chair next April. She explained that the post is filled by Ministerial appointment but that the process would be overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments. She said that the Agency had set up a sub committee to monitor the process and ensure the appointment was carried out in an open, transparent and independent manner in keeping with the status of the FSA.
Agency Chief Executive Jon Bell brought the Board up to date on an independent inquiry into testing failures by the MHS involving casualty animals and on an SRM failure at a small slaughterhouse in Wick, Scotland.
He reminded members that the Board had requested the establishment of the inquiry, following an MHS exercise that had found a number of casualty animals had escaped testing arrangements. He told the Board that an inquiry had been set up under the Chairmanship of Professor Patrick Wall from University College, Dublin. The work of gathering evidence was being carried out by independent auditors. They had visited nine meat plants in Great Britain, five of which had been found to have failures and four of which had not, and three in Northern Ireland. They had also looked at information arising from telephone inquiries carried out at 180 other British plants.
The evidence will be considered by Professor Wall's committee at its next meeting on 20 September, and it was intended that a report should be available for the Board to consider at its next meeting in October. It was then hoped that the December Board meeting would be able to discuss recommendations arising from the report.
The Chief Executive informed the Board that an SRM breech had been discovered at a small slaughterhouse in Wick, Scotland, during an MHS audit. The audit had discovered that the thymus, which is regarded as specified risk material, had not been removed from a number of carcasses and that in one carcass a small piece of spinal cord had not been removed.
Steps had been taken by the MHS to ensure there was no recurrence at the slaughterhouse in question and that similar problems were not occurring at other small slaughterhouses across the country. Supplementary information on these steps was given during the report by MHS Chief Executive Chris Lawson.
The Chief Executive noted that Board Members would be aware that the Agency was undergoing a restructure to ensure it was able to carry out its new Strategic Plan. He informed them that as part of its restructuring the Agency had appointed Gill Fine as Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health. Gill Fine is currently head of food and health at Sainsbury's. She had a wide nutritional background, which included a number of years' work at the British Nutrition Foundation.
The Chief Executive also informed the Board of the appointment of a new European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. Markos Kyprianou had taken over the responsibilities previously held by David Byrne.
Review of the Over Thirty Months Rule - the future BSE testing regime
On 6 July, the Board advised Ministers that it would be justified on grounds of the food-borne risk to consumers and proportionality to replace the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule by BSE testing, subject to an independent group advising the FSA, Defra and the Department of Health that a robust testing system could be put in place.
The OTM rule is one of the three BSE controls. The main control measure is the removal of specified risk material (SRM), which removes over 99% of the infectivity in cattle.
Having considered this advice, Ministers have asked the FSA to take responsibility for advising them further on the robustness of a proposed testing regime.
The Board considered a paper setting out terms of reference for an Independent Group that will assist the FSA with this task. It also commented upon a draft list of criteria that the group might be asked to consider in deciding on the robustness of a testing system.
Under these terms of reference, once the Group is satisfied with these criteria it will be asked to proceed to advise the FSA on whether the testing regime, which will be proposed by Defra and the FSA, can be considered robust, including any additional steps that might need to be taken to ensure this. Informed by this advice, the FSA will then be in a position to advise Ministers.
- Noted that Ministers had asked the FSA to advise them further on the establishment of a robust testing system.
- Noted the need for Government departments to work in a joined up way on this.
- Agreed that an Independent Group (its membership and terms of reference were set out in annexes to the Board paper) should assist the FSA with this task.
- Agreed that two additional members should be included in the Independent Group - an expert on BSE testing in Europe and a quality control expert.
- Commented on the criteria that the Independent Group will be asked to consider in providing its advice, including the need for contingency plans in the case of something going wrong, cattle traceability, and the desirability of holding trials.
- Requested that when the group's report comes back to the Board there would be clarity on how the resource aspects would be addressed.
- Noted that the Independent Group would be expected to complete its assignment in three to four months, but emphasised the importance of the work being done properly.
- Requested that the process is carried out in an open and transparent way and that efforts are made to involve stakeholders.
Progress report on action to improve the quality of data submitted by local authorities of food law enforcement activity in the UK
The Board considered a paper on action taken to improve the quality of the data submitted by local authorities on food law enforcement, following the discussion of this issue by the Board on 12 February 2004.
The paper reviewed action taken in three key areas:
MHAC Chair's annual report to the FSA Board
This annual report on the work of the Meat Hygiene Advisory Committee (MHAC) was provided at the Board's request.
The MHAC, which was set up at the request of the FSA Board, is an advisory rather than an executive committee. It takes a strategic oversight of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) and its efficient and effective operation. It also considers, reviews and advises the Board on the direction of meat hygiene policy (including BSE) within the framework set by the FSA Board.
The MHAC Chair also informed the Board that following the review of governance of the MHS, to which MHAC had contributed, and the likely establishment of a new governing body for the MHS, it was likely that the next meeting of the MHAC would be its last.