Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


Submitted by Gerry Hannant, Public Analyst


  1.1 Public Analysts are local authority scientists, charged with analysis and giving expert opinion on enforcement samples taken under the Food Safety Act.

  1.2 The contribution argues that Public Analysts should continue to be thinking scientists, contributing to the overview of food safety and standards. I believe a combination of pressures is progressively reducing the ability of Public Analysts to contribute in this way, becoming instead simply managers of prosecution laboratories using approved methods.

  Considering the BSE crisis came about largely through scientific information, or the lack of it, being not suitably dealt with, Parliament should be concerned.

  1.3 Who would audit them for scientific competence and contribution, as well as purely economic performance? Neither Trading Standards Officers, nor local Councillors—the main influences on Public Analysts—are able to access scientific aspects of the Public Analysts role.


  2.1 Public Analysts (PAs) give expert and objective opinion on food samples—not providing selective evidence to advance a case just for the prosecution or defence. It is therefore inappropriate for either prosecution or defence to have undue influence over a PA.

  2.2 To protect against defence influence, a PA is not permitted to engage in a food business in his area, to gain significant financial advantage. There should be corresponding protection against undue prosecution influence.

  2.3 However, there is an increasing tendency for PAs to be absorbed into Enforcement Departments, principally run by Trading Standards Officers (TSOs). This is a structural weakness, giving at least a perceived prosecution bias, and in time damaging the independent quality of PAs.

  2.4 The forensic science service being under the control of the police was an analogous situation. Scientists took the police part too much, instead of being independent experts. The police and forensic science service were separated.

  2.5 I therefore recommend: There should be a separation between Public Analysts and local authority enforcement departments.


  3.1 Economic influence of Enforcement departments results from their control over:

    —  allocation of bids for work between PAs; or

    —  on the cash allocation for analysis, if using the PA employed by their local authority.

  This can limit the scope of PAs to the mechanics of sample analysis—a role favoured by the TSOs professional association, ITSA. Time for scientific contribution is squeezed out by the need for income generation.

  Years previously, enforcement officers did not have this leverage—TSOs and PAs did their respective work without analysis being priced.


  4.1 "Public Analyst" is a statutory appointment which must be approved by elected councillors. However, appointment can effectively be made by enforcement officers, who interview, and have the appointment ratified by later submitting a report to a Council committee.

  4.2 This tendency is increased by the fragmentation of local authorities. Few PA laboratories are exclusively owned by, or deal with a single authority—joint arrangements are the rule.

  Councillors assigned to such arrangements will regard it as outside the main action of their District, Appointments are more likely to be seen as an internal enforcement department detail, giving TSOs greater control over who becomes a Public Analyst.


  5.1 This combined economic and organisational control gives TSOs the ability to apply considerable pressure to make Public Analysts take the role that they (TSOs) wish. The Report on the Review of Public Analyst Arrangements in England and Wales (MAFF/DH Joint Food and Safety and Standards Group) makes clear what the TSOs precessional organisation wants:

  5.2 "ITSA questioned the need for food authorities to appoint public analysts at all" (paragraph 23).

  The Report continues: " . . . but this proved to be a minority view. All the advisers on the LACOTS Food Standards Focus Group that considered the issue, believed that any such move would undermine both the services that food authorities received and their ability to discharge statutory duties."

  5.3 "ITSA argued that `Accreditation of laboratories of necessity deals with the skills and competencies required of those engaged in scientific services. Local authorities should be able to choose to send samples to laboratories that are competitive in terms of price and quality of service . . . '." (paragraph 24)

  The Report continues: "We believe that this statement represents a very simplistic view of what is involved in the work of public analysts."

  5.4 Also relevant here:

    —  ITSA's claim that TSOs "are capable of meeting the requirements of `informed customer' on their own". The Report does not agree, apart from "Accepting this may be true in some cases"; (paragraph 23)

    —  the Food and Drink Federation supported the view " . . . experienced, interpretative analysts continue to be needed as essential participants in the enforcement system. Public Analysts continue to fulfil this role, and uniquely so;" (paragraph 31)

    —  paragraph 32 refers to "a lack of mutual respect between the disciplines involved in food standards enforcement and a failure to elevate the common goal of consumer protection above the struggle for organisational dominance." (paragraph 32)

  5.5 Considering that TSOs are the group working most closely with Public Analysts, their "minority" and "very simplistic" view of the Public Analyst's role is surprising. It says something about them as a group, and as people. Their view was not supported by industry representatives on the Review body, nor by LACOTS Focus Group advisers. Their claim to be "informed customers", which the Report does not support, also says something about claims they are likely to make.

  5.6 Regarding struggles for organisational dominance, I do not believe public analysts generally wish to control TSOs. PAs would fight to maintain a role beyond that of the impoverished view of ITSA. Whatever the truth in this, it is clear that the wiser role of PAs is not safe in enforcement officers' hands, or if subject to their undue influence.

  5.7 I recommend that enforcement officers play no part in the appointment of Public Analysts, and no more than a subsidiary advisory role in decisions on the placement of samples with or funding of individual Public Analysts.

  5.8 This is not to say that a simplifying, perhaps over-confident approach is not advantageous to a prosecution process mitigated by the checks and balances of a court. It is quite inappropriate for such a philosophy to be in control of scientists who must, in the public interest, have a wider outlook.


  6.1 PAs are now appointed by smaller, mainly unitary authorities, with more local focus. There may be less willingness to fund the national advisory role than the old "County" days—does the time spent specifically benefit the local area?

  If no one local authority owns the public analyst laboratory, it ceases to be "theirs", in a sense. Interest in, and funding for the scientific and national aspects of PA work are likely to be diminished, even more than funding for sample analysis.

  6.2 Local Councillors cannot be expected to assess these wider aspects of PA work.


  7.1 The Agency can take over roles previously exercised by enforcement departments. Their additional contribution would be an ability to assess the scientific abilities of Public Analysts, and their national contribution.

  7.2 I recommend the Agency:

    —  in conjunction with local authority councillors, appoint Public Analysts;

    —  monitor and audit Public Analysts laboratories for economic efficiency, but also taking into account the range of work, and contribution to e.g., national advisory bodies.

    —  decide to which public analyst samples should be sent;

    —  act as a buffer between enforcement officers and PAs, perhaps chairing liaison meetings.

  7.3 Government guidance embedding the Agency in structures and procedures dealing with Public Analysts should avoid the need for the Agency to take formal control of the laboratories.

March 1999

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Prepared 12 April 1999