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 Councillorsthe main
influences on Public Analystsare able to access scientific
aspects of the Public Analysts role.
2. INDEPENDENT EXPERT
2.1 Public Analysts (PAs) give expert and objective
opinion on food samplesnot 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
3. ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT
3.1 Economic influence of Enforcement departments
results from their control over:
allocation of bids for work between
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 analysisa 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 leverageTSOs and PAs did their respective work
without analysis being priced.
4. ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT
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 authorityjoint arrangements are
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
5. EFFECTS OF
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
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
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 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."
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
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. LOCAL AUTHORITIES
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"
daysdoes the time spent specifically benefit the local
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
6.2 Local Councillors cannot be expected to
assess these wider aspects of PA work.
7. THE ROLE
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
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.