Submitted by The Sugar Bureau
The Sugar Bureau welcomes and supports:
The principle of creating an effective
Food Standards Agency focused on the protection of public health
by improvement of food safety throughout the food chain.
The proposals for the structure,
accountability and consultative arrangements of the Agency.
The Guiding principles under which
the Agency will operate (with the reservations emphasised below).
The absence of any indication that
the Agency will seek to limit the diversity of research funding
mechanisms currently available in Food Safety, Standards, Authenticity
The provisions for wide consultation
before the Agency takes action.
The intention to ensure that the
public will have adequate, clearly presented information in order
to allow them to make informed choices; and the aim to avoid raising
We wish to reiterate our concern
that the arrangements proposed for handling the specific subject
of Nutrition are less than ideal and may conflict with the Agency's
other areas of responsibility. They are also, in our view, inappropriate
for this subject, and likely to lead to confusion and replication
The current proposals are also insufficiently
clear as to the balance of expertise among the members of the
Agency; the use of scientific evidence; the publication of Advisory
Committee and the Agency reports and advice; and the separation
of scientific advice from policy formulation.
In addition, it is not clear how
the Agency will engender consumer confidence without falling prey
to undue influence from the media or unrepresentative single-issue
The Sugar Bureau was established as a trade
association over 30 years ago. Since 1990, we have been promoting
nutrition research and increasing awareness amongst academics,
health professionals, the media and the public, of the scientific
evidence about the role of sugars, and other carbohydrates in
Our staff of 10 includes well-qualified scientists,
nutritionists and dietitians. Monitoring developments in science
and nutrition forms an important part of our work, and we liaise
regularly with independent academics from across the world.
The Sugar Bureau supports the response to the
consultation provided by the Food and Drink Federation. We wish
to add some further points, however, and to reiterate the key
issues raised in our response to the White Paper that have not
been reflected in the current draft.
The relevant section of the Guiding Principles
states that "The Agency's assessments of food standards and
safety will be based on the best available scientific advice,
provided by experts invited in their own right to give independent
advice." Unfortunately, these provisions will not, in themselves,
ensure unbiased assessments. This is especially the case when
the evidence available is incomplete or conflicting.
A number of methods have been developed to reduce
the likelihood of subjective bias in the assessment of scientific
data. The use of these methods should be mandatory for the Agency.
Evidence should be collated comprehensively.
Systematic review procedures should
always be used.
Issues should be revisited at predetermined
Evidence should be judged against
consistent and predetermined quality criteria.
A further influence on the manner in which the
Agency reacts to scientific evidence will be the need to engender
consumer confidence in its decisions. It will be essential that
the Agency establishes a mode of operation that avoids an undue
influence being exerted by unrepresentative single-issue pressure
groups or the media. Careful consideration will need to be given
to the means of ensuring that the Agency can continue to deliver
judgments that are objectively based on the scientific evidence
in the face of intense media pressure. The independence of the
Agency in this regard should be explicit in its constitution and
reflected in its choice of Members.
These scientific review procedures are particularly
important when considering evidence in the field of Nutrition,
since the data in this field is often incomplete, of widely variable
quality, and subject to strong opinions.
We remain persuaded, however that Nutrition
is a subject that can no longer be viewed solely from the perspective
of food. The influence of genetic factors, physical exercise and
other lifestyle variables needs to be considered. The inclusion
of responsibility for public advice on diet within the Agency's
remit, therefore could lead to a narrowness of perspective unless
carefully co-ordinated with other relevant inputs.
The highly controversial nature of many current
nutritional theories could make it difficult for the Agency to
issue advice without damaging its credibility. In addition an
adequate research programme to verify even a small proportion
of these theories would be prohibitively expensive and could therefore
restrict research funding for more immediate priorities.
For these reasons we remain of the opinion that
Nutrition should remain outside the remit of the Agency. If the
Government wishes to continue with these current proposals, the
opportunity should be taken to reduce the replication of effort
in this field, while, at the same time, avoiding the potential
for future confusion.
As currently proposed, the Bill will create
a third source of advice to the public on Nutrition and Diet.
Both the Health Education Authority and COMA will continue independently
to seek scientific opinions from advisors and offer guidance to
the public (usually through the media). Now, in addition, the
Agency will seek input from COMA, interpret this input using its
own communication experts, and advise the public as it sees fit.
Recent experience suggests that these three routes may not always
lead to the same outcome.
A single body should take the lead in interpreting
the science, and a single body (not necessarily the same one)
should take the lead in informing the public. If it is considered
that a number of players should remain active in public information,
then, at the very least, they should use the same "hymn sheet".
It is essential that the 12 "Members"
of the Agency should include individuals who can demonstrate,
not only independence and integrity, but also competence in the
highly technical issues that will come before them. It would,
therefore be unwise to limit the pool of available talent by excluding
otherwise acceptable candidates merely because they are employees
of a company engaged in a food-related business.
Issues relating to the way in which scientific
evidence should be considered have been raised above. In addition,
there are two further connected points that should be stressed.
These concern transparency and competence.
The Bill as presently drafted conveys powers
to the Agency to publish its advice to Ministers. It does not
mandate it to publish, nor to do so promptly. Similarly, the reports
the Agency receives from its advisory committees are not required
to be made public. Both the inputs (advisory committee opinions)
and outputs (advice to Ministers) will need to be made public,
in all but the most exceptional circumstances, if the agency is
to command the confidence of all the major stakeholders and to
avoid selective leaks. In most cases, transparency is to be preferred
A further issue concerns competence. One important
weakness of the current system of developing science-based policy
decisions in the UK is that, too often, scientists are asked to
step outside their area of expertise into areas of policy. A scientist
will, in general, have no special competence in the construction
of policy options arising from his (or her) scientific judgments.
More importantly, those scientific judgments will inevitably be
biased by, at the same time, considering the practicability of
the likely policy options. This is not a comment on the integrity
of the scientists but on human psychology.
It will be of paramount importance that the
Agency rapidly develops a reputation for sound science and also
for good policy judgments. This can only be reliably achieved
by separating these two functions, preferably in time and space.
Certainly different individuals must be involved. For once, the
European Commission model is more effective than our own. Scientific
advice is the responsibility of a separate Directorate (DG XXXIV)
while policy is formulated in the other relevant Directorates.
From time to time, the Agency will undoubtedly
come under intense pressure from single-issue pressure groups
(through the media) to change its advice on both scientific and
policy issues. In order to be seen to retain public confidence,
the temptation will be for the Agency to tailor its judgments
to pre-empt such clarion calls. The inevitable consequence of
this persistent pressure could easily be a tendency to excessive
caution, inhibiting innovation and restricting personal choice
more than is justified. It is essential that the Agency is able
to remain objective even when the media are campaigning for a
particular point of view. Such objectivity will be assisted by
maintaining an arms-length relationship with the pressure groups.