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
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
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
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