Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820
MONDAY 15 MARCH 1999
and DR DICK
820. Professor Duerden?
(Professor Duerden) We would say very much the
same thing. This would be the point of contact bringing all of
us together, monitoring what is happening in patients out in communities,
looking at the microbiology and the surveillance activities the
public health laboratory service is doing, bringing together what
is being found in the food industry and on the farm. We would
anticipate that the Food Standards Agency would require us to
provide this information. It would actually be in the chair bringing
us all together to ensure that we had a co-ordinated and cohesive
approach to this.
(Mr Stevenson) I think that would be what our
veterinary colleagues in the profession would be looking forfor
that point of contact and to actually enable communication to
go horizontally and vertically so that we are aware of what is
happening in the medical field and medical laboratories as well
as veterinary laboratories so instead of beavering away in isolation
we are actually part of this cohesive body that is actually looking
for a better way forward.
821. That is all very encouraging but there
is a fundamental difference at local level between the local authority
which has certain responsibilities and the health authority which
has responsibilities. How do you see that link being made at that
level? Is there a possibility that directors of public health
could have that link under the auspices of the FSA?
(Dr Mayon-White) I think in the great majority
of parts of the country the local authorities and the health authorities
work very closely together on food-borne illness. This is the
one thing where everybody understands why you work together and
I think it would be important that the Food Standards Agency does
not interfere with that relationship which has been built up over
the years. I would see it as something that enhances that relationship
with clarity for the health authority or the local authority.
It is expected by the Food Standards Agency to do certain things,
particularly I think in relation to surveillance and the collection
of information about food-borne illness in human beings which
at the moment varies from one part of the country to another.
The Food Standards Agency could help to standardise that. The
Food Standards Agency has to be careful with its relationships
with the local authorities and health authorities that it does
not take over the local role, for example in an outbreak that
happens to be localised. Because some outbreaks although localised
will be of national importance, I would expect the Food Standards
Agency by its presence to ensure that those are properly managed
822. You said you think it is important
that the Food Standards Agency does not interfere with the relationship
between the health authority and the local authority that has
built up. But is it not precisely the role of the Food Standards
Agency to actually provide some fresh perspectives to the food
standards work that is being done thus far or the food safety
work that is being done thus far? Would you not accept that one
of the criticisms that some of us might have as set out in the
legislation is that it might not be interfering enough?
(Dr Mayon-White) I think it may be that we are
talking about minor differences in what one means by "interfere"
because I think some of the variations do reflect geographical
differences between one part of the country and another. The relationship
in a metropolitan area would be different from that in a rural
area and they will have built up what they see to be in their
own local terms the right working relationships. It is very proper
that the Food Standards Agency looks at that relationship and
comments on it if it believes it is widely different from similar
geographical areas or very different from practice elsewhere.
I think it should enhance that relationship and build on that.
I was using "interfere" in a rather negative wayintruding
in a relationship that has already been built up over 20 years
823. Looking at the legislation and thinking
through practical ways in which it will actually roll out, it
looks to me as though you might not agree with this, that the
Food Standards Agency will relate much more to the local authority
than the health authority because of its relationship with local
authorities in terms of enforcement?
(Dr Mayon-White) Yes.
824. Do you see that creating any problems
for yourselves as health professionals in the input and the relationships
you will need to have with the FSA to improve food safety?
(Dr Mayon-White) It needs to be handled with care
because, as we have already discussed, we expect from the public
health side that the Food Standards Agency will have things to
say about nutrition and I think the health authorities' input
into nutritional advice in this particular area was already further
developed than the majority of local authorities' advice into
nutritional standards. That is a generalisation and there are
some exciting differences where some local authorities have given
a lot of good nutritional advice. We have already said that there
needs to be clarity about the role on the nutritional side of
the Food Standards Agency to the same degree of detail that there
must be in the clarity of its role in the food hygiene side because
it will be working with different players at the local level.
825. Do you think it will relate more strongly
to the local authority structures than health authority structures?
(Dr Mayon-White) If it concentrates on food safety,
yes it will have a stronger link with the local authority.
826. I wanted to ask something about the
relationship with the Meat Hygiene Service and the Pesticides
Safety Directorate the VMD as welland that is more directed
towards the vets obviously. Do you agree with keeping the PSD
and VMD under MAFF? Do you think it might make more sense to transfer
their functions to the FSA in the way for example the Meat Hygiene
Service has been transferred?
(Mr Baker) I think that perhaps the Meat Hygiene
Service is a different kettle of fish, if I can use that expression
here, than the VMD. The Meat Hygiene Service is an implementation
Agency whereas the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has responsibilities
elsewhere in terms of policy and in terms of decisions on the
quality, safety and efficacy of veterinary medicines. Certainly
the British Veterinary Association in the past has said that it
would be divisive to put parts of those roles in different agencies
and therefore bearing in mind the work the VMD has done so farand
I cannot talk quite so much about the PSDI think we would
be reasonably content to leave things as they are in that particular
area as long as there is adequate communication again.
827. I completely agreed with your comments
earlier, I found them very interesting, when you said that healthy
animals make healthy food. I think healthy crops also make healthy
food. Do you think that vets are going to have proper access to
the FSA and to the way in which it works given that your role
in terms of dealing with salmonella and e.Coli is absolutely
crucial? Presumably you are not going to be as involved formally,
(Mr Baker) There are a number of elements in the
veterinary profession and there are elements within government
and elements in private practice and as long as there is a two-way
communication there we see the FSA as a role for improvement and
we would be looking for additionality rather than substitution
so we would be looking to enhance the role of everybody there.
828. Supposing, for example, the FSA set
itself as a task the elimination of e.Coli, say, from the
beef herd which would be very ambitious and need a lot of work.
You would have to be closely involved also. Do you see your roles
reflected properly in the way the FSA is structured in this draft
(Mr Baker) I think that if the FSA decided that
it wanted as an example to get rid of e.Coli, particularly
0157, it would have to have discussions with the people who are
going to have to do it to make sure that what they wanted to do
was feasible. From that point of view I would expect there to
be a two-way communication to try and solve the way that ought
to be carried out because the FSA cannot do it on its own.
829. How do you see on farm enforcement
working? That is something else that has been much discussed and
(Mr Stevenson) I think there is a very current
issue on farm enforcement at the livestock unit end, whether it
is the transfer of dirty livestock into the abattoir, and clearly
at that stage there needs to be a very close link. We have said
already the link between the farm unit and getting it right on
the farm units, clean livestock and healthy animals going into
the abattoir and the feed back from the abattoir is important,
but I think that the role vis-a-vis enforcement and an enforcing
agency, certainly if enforcement is going to be mentioned, and
it needs to be mentioned, then it needs to be fully effective
and monitoring of enforcement at farm level is something that
the British Veterinary Association certainly would support by
the right agency.
830. It is not there now? There is just
observation now. The Minister has said there will be no no-go
areas but that is different from having on farm enforcement particularly
if you think that the basic production of healthy food relies
on healthy animals.
(Mr Stevenson) I agree with that.
(Mr Baker) I think the advice to a large extent
will come from the practitioner. The enforcement will come from
elsewhere and the FSA will be working through other "agencies"and
I use that word in inverted commas in this contextand they
will be responsible for the enforcement. For instance, it could
be the State Veterinary Service who is responsible for enforcing
certain elements on the farm.
Ms Keeble: Thank you
Chairman: Owen is
shaking his head at that.
831. The enforcement in the abattoirs will
be carried out by the Meat Hygiene Service which will be reporting
to the FSA so how can it retain its independence if it is an advisory
body and a monitoring body?
(Mr Baker) The Meat Hygiene Service is not an
advisory body or a policy setting body. I think the advice to
the Foods Standards Agency could well come from other places.
It may well be that in certain areas the Meat Hygiene Service
has expertise to offer advice to the Food Standards Agency but
the Food Standards Agency will be setting policy and the Meat
Hygiene Service is an implementation agency, it is not a policy
832. But the Food Standards Agency is in
charge of the Meat Hygiene Service. It is ultimately responsible.
(Mr Baker) Yes, but you have got to get your expertise
somewhere to offer advice and you use the people with the best
expertise in the area to seek the advice to decide which way you
want to go. You are not going to go outside the Meat Hygiene Service
unless you have got specific people with knowledge of the meat
industry to whom to go for advice.
833. The Meat Hygiene Service is a very
substantial organisation employing large numbers of people and
it is a major vested interest in its own right. If something goes
wrong with that within the remit of the FSA how is the FSA going
to clamp down on its own people? There is a clear conflict.
(Mr Baker) I think I would need to think about
that particular argument. The point comes back to the fact that
the Food Standards Agency sets the policy and it is the Meat Hygiene
Service that implements that policy. Then there will be an auditing
role for a separate part of the Food Standards Agency to make
sure that the Meat Hygiene Service is doing its job.
Mr Paterson: We do
not have that in the Bill at the momentone wing of the
FSA talking to another wing, keeping their own independence and
integrity. We do not have that.
Chairman: Audrey Wise?
834. Thinking about the advice and information
which the FSA itself will give, in the Bill clause 9 says it has
a duty to give information and advice to public bodies. Clause
10 says it has a duty likewise to the general public. There is
not a clause which says it has a duty to do that to the industry,
the producers or the processors or the vendors. Thinking of the
producers in particular, do you think that there should be an
equivalent duty or do you think that they are encompassed sufficiently
under the heading "general public"?
(Mr Stevenson) No, I do not think they are necessarily
within the description of general public because the specific
and crucial and key role that they perform really needs to be
highlighted and advice to those food producers, who after all
are human food producers, needs to be specific to them as well
as the generality of communication down to the public level.
835. So this might be something which should
be added specifically in the Bill so that we have public bodies,
the general public and producers and processors?
(Mr Stevenson) Yes.
836. Public confidence in food is part of
what this is about. I am of the view that public confidence will
only be restored or maintained in food if it is based on substance.
I do not think that you can simply weave a spell or magic words
or anything. Part of the problems, perceived and actual, seem
to me to be related to things like residues in crops and also
antibiotic resistant organisms through the prolific use of antibiotics
in animals. In Sweden such use of antibiotics has been restricted
for the last three years. Do you think that is a factor which
should be looked at here or are you completely happy about the
(Mr Stevenson) No, I do not think we are completely
happy about the antibiotic situation. We are aware of the anxiety
about the transfer of drug resistance and perhaps the less problematic
area of residues, which I do believe is being looked at and monitored
carefully by the VMD, but I think on the whole idea of residues
and the use of medicines on the farm, both by veterinarians and
by farmers as the result of various reports certainly the BVA
are very well aware of their high level of responsibility and
there are good codes of practice which have just been produced
down to the species level of how best responsibly and prudently
to use antibacterials. Clearly if there is evidence of antibacterials
used in animals causing problems in human beings we as a profession
would say that is unacceptable and measures have been taken to
837. Do you think this is a proper concern
for the FSA?
(Mr Stevenson) I think it is a proper concern
for the FSA.
838. Could I ask Jill Wordley from the Food
Standards Safety Group to clarify the interchange of words between
Owen Paterson and the witnesses.
(Ms Wordley) Thank you, Chairman. Mr Paterson
mentioned that in his opinion the Bill did not cover the auditing
role in relation to the Meat Hygiene Service. Although the Meat
Hygiene Service is not strictly mentioned itself in the Bill the
provisions of clauses 14 and 15 do relate to the Agency monitoring
its performance where it itself acts as the enforcement authority
which is of course the case in relation to meat hygiene. So clause
14 (5), for example, requires the Agency to report on the performance
of the Meat Hygiene Service in enforcing meat hygiene legislation.
Chairman: Thank you
very much for that. Howard Stoate?
839. I would like to ask about the inspections
particularly to the PHLS. What is your view of the proposed powers
to enter and inspect premises, including of course your labs?
(Professor Duerden) Including our labs?