Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Food and Drink Federation (SAGE 02)

  This submission is made by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the trade association for food and drink manufacturing. Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, directly employing some 440,000 people in companies of all sizes with annual turnover of around £72 billion. FDF is very actively involved in the prevention of incidents and in the development of strategies to minimise risk along the food supply chain. We have extensive expertise in risk assessment, risk management and risk communication and take food safety and consumer trust in food manufacturing very seriously.

  FDF welcome the inquiry by the Science and Technology Committee on scientific advice and evidence in emergencies as we strongly believe that timely advice based on sound scientific evidence is crucial in the management of incidents and in the development of proportionate and effective responses. We recognise that the contribution that we are able to make to this inquiry is quite limited but we welcome the opportunity to support the need for tested science and evidence based approaches to incident management and prevention.


Timeline of events

  14/4 volcano erupted.

  19/4 FDF contacted FSA asking about food safety implications. In the absence of direct information from FSA we surveyed available literature on potential risks from volcanic eruptions. The composition of the ash, which varies from eruption to eruption, is critical but was not known at that time.

  20/4 FDF researched the supply chain and distribution aspects of the potential crisis to quantify potential disruptions to food supplies.

  Some coverage started to appear in the trade press.

  22/4 The European Commission asked EFSA for an urgent assessment.

  FSA and DEFRA were reported by the trade press as saying that there was "no food safety issue at present" and "no immediate concern for animal health or crop production".

  26/4 EFSA statement was issued and was circulated by FDF to members. The statement indicated that, based on available information, the potential risk to human and animal health arising from fall-out of Icelandic volcanic ash was considered to be negligible, but that information on the composition of ash and the distribution of fall out over the EU were both limited at that time and the risks should be re-evaluated as and when more information became available.

  30/4 FSA Ireland issued a statement confirming no food safety or supply chain issues for Ireland and giving first limited information on the composition of the ash.

  The information that we provided to members was based on limited data about the composition of the ash that was depositing on UK soil and on the official statements from EFSA and FSA Ireland.

1.   What are the potential hazards and risks and how were they identified? How prepared is/was the Government for the emergency?

  Potential contamination of UK agricultural soil and water. The risk to health from UK crops would not have been immediate due to the time of year.

  FSA is responsible for conducting chemical analysis of potential contaminants when required and for issuing advice accordingly.

2.   How does/did the Government use scientific advice and evidence to identify, prepare for and react to an emergency?

  No official statements were issued by the UK FSA, probably because no questions were asked as the incident response focussed quite rightly on other aspects.

  A risk assessment, although based on limited data, was issued by the European Food Safety Authority 12 days after the eruption.

3.   What are the obstacles to obtaining reliable, timely scientific advice and evidence to inform policy decisions in emergencies? Has the Government sufficient powers and resources to overcome the obstacles? For case studies (i) and (ii) was there sufficient and timely scientific evidence to inform policy decisions?

  There was uncertainty on the composition of the ash that prevented national and European authorities from conducting a risk assessment very quickly.

4.   How effective is the strategic coordination between Government departments, public bodies, private bodies, sources of scientific advice and the research base in preparing for and reacting to emergencies?

  We were satisfied with the statement from EFSA and FSA Ireland and understood from the trade press that FSA was in agreement with the conclusions by EFSA.

5.   How important is international coordination and how could it be strengthened?

  As the spread of the volcanic ash affected a very large part of Europe, the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority became involved in the very early stages of this emergency and pre-empted what the UK FSA would have done had the UK been the only affected country.

Food and Drink Federation

24 August 2010

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