FSA News Item, 16 September 2005
The Agency held an Open Board Meeting in London on Thursday 15 September 2005 . The meeting was attended by 75 stakeholders and members of the public, and viewed on live webcast by more than 300 people.
Report from the Agency's Chair
FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton told the Board that the Government had that morning (15 September 2005) announced that it had accepted the Agency's advice on BSE testing agreed at the Board meeting in August and had, in particular, agreed to a number of pre-conditions set by the Agency to ensure that consumer protection was maintained.
The Government's announcement follows earlier FSA advice that it is acceptable and proportionate on public health grounds to replace the OTM rule with a testing regime for cattle older than 30 months.
The OTM rule was introduced in 1996 and banned cattle over 30 months of age from sale for food in the UK .
The Chair said that a communications strategy involving the Agency and other Government departments to explain the new regime was now under way, as well as scoping out the remit and membership of a Review Group to oversee and scrutinise the implementation of the BSE testing regime. Both these would be discussed by the Board later in the meeting.
The Chair also announced that Diane Benford, the Agency's head of Chemical Safety and Toxicology, had been appointed to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel of Contaminants in the Food Chain.
Chief Executive's Report
Food safety management
FSA Chief Executive Jon Bell updated the Board about Agency initiatives to help food businesses to comply with new hygiene laws due to apply from 1 January 2006 .
Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) – the food safety management pack to help caterers further protect public health by improving hygiene standards and record-keeping – has now been launched.
There would be further supporting material for those from minority ethnic backgrounds, he said, as well as help for local authorities to enable them to offer support for food businesses during the implementation phase.
In 2006 the Agency would also be running two-day regional courses for local authorities to help businesses use SFBB, and a national framework contract would be available to provide access to SFBB trainers.
The Agency has also announced a support package worth £10m over three years, which is being awarded to local authorities in the form of grants. So far, 158 local authorities have shared in the first tranche of £5.5m. The second tranche of £4.5m will be made available in the New Year.
Sudan dyes update
The Chief Executive told Board Members that the Agency had received information that small amounts of the food dye Sudan I can be produced as part of the manufacturing process of Sunset Yellow, a food colouring permitted for use in the European Union. The current EU legislation for Sunset Yellow allows up to 5% of subsidiary colouring matter to be present.
He said the Agency had contacted the importers, who had agreed to adjust the process so that Sudan I was not present in future batches. Agency staff would also be raising the matter of the 5% exemption at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Food and Animal Health in Brussels on 20 September and seeking an amendment to make the presence of Sudan I illegal.
He stressed that the levels of Sudan dyes in foods should be as low as is practicably possible and that it remains illegal to add the dyes to food.
Dr Bell also brought the Board up to date on the work that the Agency was doing to help develop standardised detection methods for illegal dyes for use throughout the EU.
Dr Bell told the Board that Allied Bakeries had yesterday (14 September) issued a press release about a tampering incident at its factory in Orpington , Kent .
One particular brand, Kingsmill white sliced bread, distributed across the south east of England , had been affected. The company had been working with the police and security had been stepped up to eliminate the problem.
The first incidents had involved putting plastic and chewing gum into the product, which customers could spot quite easily, but more recently the tampering had involved glass and sewing needles, which were harder to see.
Dr Bell said that five incidents of the latter kind had come to light and that the factory produced 2.5 million loaves each week.
Allied Bakeries had declined invitations to be interviewed by local broadcast media, which would have enabled the warnings to consumers to be on their guard to have been propagated more widely, so the Agency had fielded Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety at the FSA.
Dr Bell said he would keep the Board informed of any future developments.
Dr Bell highlighted recent news coverage of avian (bird) flu outbreaks and stressed that all the evidence suggested it is an animal rather than human health issue and that it was extremely unlikely that it could be transmitted by food.
In the event of an outbreak, those most at risk would be people working with live birds, he added. Slaughterhouse staff would, however, be very unlikely to be put at risk.
The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) was responsible for implementing measures to deal with an outbreak and the Agency was working closely with Defra and the Department of Health to ensure that consumers were protected.
Reports of antibiotic-resistant E.coli in imported foods
Dr Bell alluded to recent media reports about the possible presence of an antibiotic-resistant E. coli organism in imported foods.
He said that work was ongoing to detect the source of the organism, but to date there was no evidence that it came from food. He said the independent expert Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food would advise what steps should be taken if food was found to be the source.
The Board agreed its advice to Health Ministers on the approach the UK should take in further discussions on the European Food Supplements Directive in Europe .
Under the terms of the Directive, which applies from 1 August 2005 , the European Commission (EC) would need to propose maximum safe levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements.
The Commission is expected to issue initial discussion documents later this year or early in 2006, with more formal proposals due later.
The Board agreed an approach to setting maximum safe levels based on scientific risk assessment. This evidence-based approach supports consumer protection while, at the same time, seeking to maintain consumer choice.
The Board recommended that maximum safe levels should be set for supplements on a Europe-wide basis. Supplements that exceed these levels should be allowed to be sold in individual Member States where intakes of certain vitamins and minerals from food were lower than those used to calculate the European level for each supplement.
The levels of vitamins and minerals in these supplements would be set on the basis of national expert opinion.
Any single-dose supplements containing amounts above the levels recommended by national experts would also be available, but only if they carry advisory statements.
The results of risk assessments of 34 vitamins and minerals were published in the UK by the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM), in 2003.
The levels of most products on the UK market are well below the safe upper levels set by the EVM.
But a small number of products (containing vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, nickel, nicotinic acid, zinc, manganese, phosphorous and vitamin B6), could cause adverse effects if taken regularly by some people.
These levels are explained in more detail for consumers at eatwell.gov.uk/healthydiet/nutritionessentials/vitaminsandminerals/
EU Regulations on Official Feed and Food Controls Application in the UK
The Board accepted recommendations concerning the implementation of an EU Regulation on official food and feed controls from 1 January 2006 .
The regulation aims to provide a flexible, proportionate and partnership-based approach that protects consumers and doesn't impose unnecessary burdens on businesses and enforcement authorities.
The Agency consulted on the new proposals in March 2005 and responses will be posted on the website in due course.
Consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry on Proposals for the formation of functions of a Consumer and Trading Standards Agency
The Board agreed it should respond formally to Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) consultation proposals to set up a Consumer and Trading Standards Agency.
Setting up the new body was a key recommendation of Philip Hampton's report on regulatory inspection and enforcement.
The consultation focuses on three issues that have the potential to impact on the Agency's work:
The DTI consultation ends on 12 October 2005 and the Board agreed that its response would be published.
BSE Controls: Changing the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule – Progress Report
The Board noted developments since its August 2005 meeting on replacing the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule with BSE testing. These include: