Submitted by the Association of Public
The Food Standards Committee has agreed to examine
and comment on the adequacy, effectiveness and the practicability
of proposals contained in the draft Food Standards Bill published
in January, 1999.
2. PUBLIC ANALYSTS
Public Analysts are statutory analytical scientists
required to be appointed by Local Authorities in the United Kingdom
for the purpose of undertaking the official chemical analysis
and the examination of foodstuffs. To be appointed, the Public
Analyst must possess the post graduate qualification of Mastership
in Chemical Analysis awarded by the Royal Society of Chemistry
after searching examination. This qualification is prescribed
by, or by subordinate legislation made under, the Food Safety
Act 1990 and the Agriculture Act 1970.
There are 31 Public Analysts' Laboratories throughout
the United Kingdom employing a total of about 600 staff. Public
Analysts are represented professionally by both the Royal Society
of Chemistry and by the Association of Public Analysts.
The training of Public Analysts includes food
analysis and food science, food technology, microbiology, law,
agricultural matters and the interpretation of data obtained during
analysis and examination. It is in the capacity of representing
the views of official enforcement scientists that the Association
makes these comments.
3. PREVIOUS EVIDENCE
The Association of Public Analysts has already
presented evidence, both written and verbal, to the Agriculture
Committee of the House of Commons in December, 1997, and this
evidence was concerned with Food Safety. The evidence also dealt
with proposals for the establishment of a Food Standards Agency.
4. THE DRAFT
The Association warmly supports the establishment
of an independent Food Standards Agency as described in the draft
Bill and notes that the draft Bill is designed to interact with
the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Agriculture Act 1970 and to provide
as a function of the Agency a mechanism for monitoring the enforcement
activities of Local Authorities to ensure that their work is appropriate
to risk and to need. This is important.
It is the experience of the Association that
throughout the United Kingdom the levels of enforcement, including
the analysis of examination of official samples, varies from less
than 0.1 sample per thousand head of population to up to three
or more samples per thousand head of population. A minimum level
of activity must be established and this must be enforced by the
Agency in order to maintain public confidence and indeed the competence
of those enforcing food law. Practice it must be said makes perfect,
whilst lack of practice is debilitating. So too are the precipitate
reductions of sampling programmes which result from some Local
Authorities seeking to "balance the books" when shortage
of revenue results in some functions having to be reduced dramatically.
Familiarity with the work entailed, and especially in the cases
of continuing and developing work skills breeds expertise. It
is such expertise which must be the backbone of the skill base
necessary for enforcement.
Other proposed functions of the Agency, such
as developing policy, providing advice acquiring information and
making observations on food and agricultural matters, are important
in making sure that the Agency is able to operate from a position
of knowledge and ability.
The Association is concerned that the provisions
of the draft Bill affording the powers to enter and inspect any
laboratories appear, by the phrasing of the clause further to
distance the Official Laboratories from the Local Authorities
by subordinating them and their roles. The Association is recommending
in response to the consultation on the draft Bill that the words
"laboratory or similar" are deleted from clause
15, (5) (b), also at the end of the clause the word "and",
and that after adding to the end of clause 15 (5) (c) the word
"and" a further clause be added to clause 15
(5) namely "(d) any Official Laboratory".
By so amending the draft Bill the roles of the
Official Laboratories are not further subordinated to the enforcement
Authorities but are clearly seen for what they have to be, an
independent primary function essential for the effective protection
of consumers and the responsible food industry serving the needs
of the United Kingdom.
The general principles of clauses 14 and 15
are strongly supported by the Association.
5. SCIENCE, OFFICIAL
We have previously commented to the Agriculture
Committee that during the Official Inspections of food producing
and handling premises the official scientists, that is the Public
Analysts and the Food Examiners all too often are never involved
and remain confined to their laboratories. Scientific input and
involvement at the place of inspection often is necessary to ensure
both better interpretation of those aspects of risk assessment
revealed by the inspection and requiring a scientific input and
also enlightening the scientists involved, who then are the better
able to guide samples through the laboratory to ensure the relevance
of the analyses made.
We support clause 12 of the draft Bill and note
that nutrition, which has long-term effects on the health of consumers,
is listed in this clause as dietary behaviour.
Science must not be confined to laboratories!
6. FUNDING OF
Unlike the funding of the Food Examiners, who
mainly are based in the Public Health Laboratory Service and so
are able to provide a service which appears to be "free"
to Local Authorities, the funding of Public Analysts comes via
a variety of mechanisms, depending on the relationship of the
Public Analyst with her or his particular Local Authority. This
results in enormous variations in the levels of service provision
which is available throughout the United Kingdom.
At one extreme annually one Local Authority
submits less than 0.1 sample per thousand head of population to
their appointed Public Analyst, whereas other Local Authorities
take and submit in excess of three samples per thousand head of
population. Such discrepancies and the extreme variations in public
protection that result are in need of the proposed overview and
positive direction that the Agency promises.
The experiences of many fee paid Public Analysts
leads them to conclude that some Local Authorities consider the
roles of Public Analysts not to be a core activity to be seriously
and responsibly funded. Such remunerations are viewed merely as
"windfalls" adding some funds and work to laboratories
otherwise fully funded and able to trade freely and quite unrestricted
by any Statutory limitations aimed at preventing conflicts of
interest. Such limitations do exist. The fact that Public Analyst
functions are the core activity of these laboratories needs to
be recognised. Funding must be responsibly deployed. Funding must
not be subjected to simple minded cost comparisons made in the
belief that price alone for fragmented service assures that "best
value" is and is shown to be being achieved, whilst all the
ancillary functions of the laboratory and the very real costs
of maintenance of Accreditation are ignored.
7. PROPOSALS FOR
Proposals for a scheme for a levy to support
the funding of the Agency have been made. Food retailers and caterers
will be charged a levy presently suggested to be about £90.
The Association believes that this charge is modest and having
supported the Agency it will leave for the Local Authorities collecting
the levy at most a few pounds per premise, collectively quite
insufficient to pay for an inspector able to inspect the premises
at intervals of less than at least three years.
In comparison, Public Analysts' laboratories
have to fund the costs of Accreditation wholly unsupported by
any grants from Central Government and in addition have to maintain
Accreditation, facing the charges levied by the Accreditation
Bodies. Annually these charges are typically about £4,000.
In addition, Public Analysts have to pay for performance assessment
schemes costing of the order of £2,500 a year plus, of course,
the very much greater laboratory bench time costs involved in
demonstrating competence, all this whether or not Local Authorities
do take and submit samples.
The Association would refer the Committee to
our previous evidence to the Agriculture Committee and enclosed
are copies of the Annual Report and Statistics
for the Year ending 1997.
The report for 1998 is still in preparation
and copies will be submitted as soon as completed.
The Association emphasises the scope of work
undertaken by Public Analysts and the evidence of the still declining
use being made of Public Analysts by Local Authorities unguided
by effective Central Government direction.
Public Analysts are qualified and are able to
provide competent and necessary advice and services in a wide
range of food and agricultural matters. This broad role is essential
if official scientists are to continue to cope with not only the
predictable but also the unexpected. Science must adapt to the
problems being faced. It is inappropriate to think that the problems
can be adapted to the solutions capable of being provided. The
continuing development in the 31 laboratories of available analytical
techniques and expertise in an appallingly under-funded and often
unfairly and inappropriately under used service says much about
the professional responsibility of Public Analysts and their dedication
to supporting the Public weal.
Should the Committee so wish, representatives
of the Association would be very pleased to attend before the
Committee to explain and develop any of the matters mentioned
above and to deal with any other germane matters by way of oral
The Association is grateful for the opportunity
to assist the Committee.
1. CLAUSE 15 OF
The concept of public analysts and the PHLS
laboratories being simply subordinate "on tap" scientific
services for the non-scientific enforcement officers to use if
and when they may feel it necessary has been promoted by some
officials in enforcement-supported and encouraged by the continuing
lack of any effective guidance from MAFF. To continue down this
road would be to fatally weaken the knowledge and skill base of
local authority food enforcement and hence its effectiveness.
Despite assertions from some of their members, even the most experienced
EHOs and TSOs do not have all the training and all of the knowledge
needed to run enforcement alone. This is recognised by many who
take a "corporate" view, but a minority with narrow
professional viewpoints have some support. The Public Analyst
and his qualifications, coupled with the comprehensive quality
assurance regimes placed upon official laboratories, are creatures
of the Food Safety Act and its predecessors. This is for a reason.
They exist to supply expertise, knowledge and a reliability that
is not available from others in the enforcement system, others
who have different and also essential skills. All PA laboratories
meet the EC requirements for official laboratories. This must
be positively recognised, identified and supported as such. The
official laboratories are not at present properly recognised.
As a result of the Byzantine process by which they receive funding,
and the jealousies that exist, they are undermined financially,
both in terms of investment and day to day use. Furthermore, training
initiatives of the profession are wholly ignored by local government.
Against this background, we strongly recommend
one vital change to the drafting of the bill.
In clause 15, (5)(b), delete the words "laboratory
or similar" and the word "and" from
the end of the clause, and after adding the word "and"
to the end of clause 15(5)(c), add a new clause 15(5)(d) "any
Official Laboratory". This will categorise the Official
Laboratories as the special service providers they are, and the
vehicles through which Public Analysts and Food Examiners can
deliver their expertise.
2. FINANCING BRITAIN'S
Mr Martyn Jones MP has tabled questions in the
House, some of which relate to the amount of money channelled
by local authorities firstly to their food enforcement work and
within that to their food analysis duties. We believe that answers
given will show how very little of the monies in the system actually
reach their intended target. We do not believe that it is in the
public interest for funding to be so insecure and variable as
our profession finds it to be. We have urged that the PA Service
should, like the PHLS, be funded centrally so that local authorities'
financial vagaries should no longer have the year on year effects
leading to the unrestrained attrition the service has seen in
recent years. Almost without exception, those authorities which
use an external PA laboratory (whether provided by another local
authority or privately) have cut their spending over the last
decade. It is quite clear that this is an easier budget head to
trim than those that involve internal staff, salaries and premises
which are the direct responsibility of the local authorities.
3. THE OFFICIAL
The Laboratory of the Government Chemist functioning
as Official Referee has expertise that is inherent in the LGC.
But the complexities of the modern food industry reflected in
the skills and interpretational skills in the food industry and
its research associations extend beyond the scope and function
even of an organisation as large and well endowed as the LGC.
There is no doubt that LGC has many state of
the art analytical facilities, and the associated interpretational
skills. However there are other areas where it is unreasonable
to expect the LGC to maintain comprehensive interpretational skills
across all aspects of an arena as complex and diverse as food
production and supply which in the UK alone is a £75,000
million per year industry.
Therefore the suggestion has been made, in order
to protect the position and integrity of the LGC, that the Government
Chemist function should be supported by an official committee
established to draw upon expertise from the Food Standards Agency,
food industry research associations, enforcement analysts, academe
and the LGC. This would allow identification of those areas where
the appropriate expertise necessary for the referee function lies
within LGC and its staff, and because the law provides that the
Government Chemist can pass the referee functions to another,
to identify when that needs to be done, and to whom such a function
may in specific instances be devolved.
The net effect of this proposal is to reinforce
the status of the Government Chemist where the function is discharged
by the Government Chemist, and to safeguard the Government Chemist
against criticism should the function be passed to another.
The official referee committee would need to
be aware of the commercial interests served by the LGC and by
being aware would identify those areas where conflict of interest
might be thought to exist, as well as establishing those areas
where interests coincide but do not result in conflicts. The same
considerations would apply with respect to those individuals and
organisations to whom the official function would be passed when
found to be necessary.
When the LGC was a government owned laboratory,
it was above the risks of conflicts of interest arising because
its role was as chemist to the government. Now, the function of
Government Chemist is one part of a large commercial organisation
(50 per cent larger in the past year, due mainly to commercial
acquisitions). As such the independence of the LGC in discharging
the function of the official referee needs to be demonstrated
because it can no longer be taken for granted merely because the
role is established by statute. This will be facilitated by the
guidance and advice which would be delivered by the official referee
committee. It would not matter that some members of the committee
might have commercial interests, because these would be known
and recognised in reaching decisions.
There may even be a case for re-considering
the economics of the official referee function. The cost to the
Nation of maintaining this function to deal with about 30 to 40
cases a year is considerable. The figures passed to the Turner
committee by the LGC show that typical costs of the Government
Chemist analysis in referee cases are 20 and more times the costs
of the Public Analysis. Some of this expense must be involved
in maintaining infrequently used skills as well as establishing
necessary skills when confronted with novel demands. If of course,
the facilities are also being used for commercial work, then perhaps
such overheads are shared between commercial client and taxpayer,
but then potential conflict of interest arises and the need for
the protection of the statutory duty by the proposed official
referee committee becomes apparent.
Last Monday it became clear that this body was
not previously known at least to some of the members of the committee.
FLEP is an acronym for Food Law Enforcement Practitioners, and
is a Europe wide body set up about 10 years ago by leading enforcement
scientists in Europe. From its inception, the UK has been represented
by Mr A J Harrison OBE, a former member of the food advisory committee
and until his recent retirement Public Analyst for the County
of Avon and Bristol. Other UK representatives have since joined,
nevertheless it is important to maintain scientific representation
by scientists with direct experience of the scientific requirements
of enforcement. This accords with the scientific involvements
of representatives from other member states. Its recommendations
on Official Food Enforcement Laboratories are enclosed for your
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