June 2006 Board update
Tuesday 20 June 2006
The Agency held an open Board meeting on 15 June in Bristol. The meeting, chaired by FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton (pictured), was attended by about 40 people and viewed on a live webcast by about 450.
Agency Chair Deirdre Hutton informed the Board that since its last open meeting she had met with Andrew Russell, from the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, and Carole Sakowiak, from the Society for Research into Hydrocephalus and Spina Bifida.
The Chair had explained to them that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) had delayed the publication of its report on folate to take into account emerging evidence of the safety of high intakes of folic acid and to do further population modelling.
The Chair was able to ensure them that, as any Agency proposal would be evidence-based it would have been impossible for the Agency to have made a decision without taking into account the final SACN report.
The Chair also had a meeting with Health Minister Caroline Flint, during which she updated the Minister on the situation with regard to the Agency's position on folate.
The Chair had visited Northern Ireland to meet FSA staff and hold discussions with the Food Standards Authority of Ireland and the Food Safety Promotion Board – the all-Ireland body set up as a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement. The three bodies are now considering holding a joint event in Dublin looking at possible collaboration in science research and expertise.
The Chair also spoke at the Women's Institute (WI) meeting in Cardiff, when the Agency was publicising two initiatives involving the WI – the Cooking Bus and 'Let's cook' an initiative that will involve the WI going to less socially affluent areas to help people learn cooking skills.
She also attended various industry meetings including with the Food and Drink Federation and PepsiCo, mostly to talk about Signpost labelling. She said that the Agency would undertake research in a year's time on what forms of signpost labelling work best in changing consumer behaviour. The ongoing discussion was on how the Agency was going to do this in the most effective way.
Agency Chief Executive John Harwood updated the Board on developments with regard to Avian Flu.
At the last open meeting it was reported that low pathogenic avian influenza (H7N3) had been confirmed on three poultry farms in Dereham, Norfolk towards the end of April.
Restrictions had now been lifted on the three farms, and no further cases had been detected.
Outside the UK, outbreaks of avian flu in poultry and wild birds have been continuing in Asia, Africa and Europe. However, a decline in the incidence of the virus in wild birds in Europe has been noted over the past weeks.
He added that in the middle of May the WHO had reported seven cases of avian flu in an extended family in Indonesia, six of whom had died. An additional case was strongly suspected in a family member who died in early May. All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness.
Limited human-to-human transmission has occurred in this cluster, however there is no evidence of spread within the general community.
Full genetic sequencing of the virus had found no evidence of genetic re-assortment with human or pig influenza viruses and no evidence of any significant mutations. The WHO has concluded that the current level of pandemic alert did not need to change.
The WHO had confirmed that, worldwide, the total number of cases was 225, with 128 deaths. In the past month, all the reported cases had occurred in Indonesia, with the exception of one additional case in Egypt and a case in Djibouti.
The Chief Executive reported that on 16 May, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland reported the discovery of approximately 3cm of SRM spinal cord in a forequarter of an Over Thirty Month (OTM) bovine that had been received at ABP Lurgan.
Salmonella in eggs
Andrew Wadge, the Agency's acting Chief Scientist, joined John Harwood to report on Samonella in eggs.
Wine Standards to be transferred to the Agency
John Harwood reminded the Board that there had been discussions in the past on the transfer of the Wine Standards Board (WSB) from DEFRA to the Agency.
He reported that the conditions that had been laid down by the Agency for that transfer – that there should be a synergy with the Agency's consumer protection role, that the transfer should be on a cost-neutral basis etc – had been met and the Agency had reached agreement to incorporate the work of the WSB, and the ten staff that make up the organisation, from 1 July, All of the WSB functions will transfer to the Agency, including the cost of running the work, and the responsibility for maintaining the register of British vineyards.
Eatwell DVD wins award
The Chief Executive informed the Board that that the Agency's 'Eatwell' DVD (featuring TV presenter Lorraine Kelly and dietician Nigel Denby) won a Silver Screen Award at the 2006 US International Film and Video Awards in the category of Medicine & Health: Consumer/Patient Oriented.
He pointed out that there had been more than 1,300 entries from over 30 countries for these awards, which are in their 39th year and globally recognised.
The DVD was a joint project between the Agency's Communications and Nutrition teams. It was produced to support the salt campaign and designed to bring to life the Agency's eight tips for eating well in a daytime TV format that is familiar to consumers.
He added that it had been a great achievement, and was in fact the second award that the Agency's Communications division had won in the past few months.
Atypical scrapie in small ruminants: consideration of the current precautionary risk management measures
This paper provided information on atypical scrapie (a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in sheep and goats and the precautionary measures currently in place to protect consumers from the possible risks from TSEs in these species. There are a great many unknowns about atypical scrapie, including the potential implications, if any, for human health.
It also reported on the views of stakeholders and consumer focus groups who were asked whether, in the light of this uncertainty, additional precautionary measures were needed and for their views on the Agency's advice on this subject.
agreed that the Agency's advice and recommendations on precautionary measures should be kept under review and be brought back to the Board if there are significant changes in the understanding of the risk.
agreed that developments on atypical scrapie be kept under review to enable
contingency policy to be refined as new information emerges
agreed that the Agency should open discussions with the European Commission on the issue of the identification of meat from older sheep or goats and natural sausage casings made from sheep intestines to enable consumer choice
BSE and sheep contingency policy
This paper asked the Board to agree, for purposes of contingency planning, a
possible approach to a graduated strengthening of measures to protect
consumers if BSE were ever found in one or more sheep in the current UK flock.
The paper also noted the high level of uncertainty around estimates of the possible risk from BSE in sheep and that, if BSE were ever found in a UK sheep, the estimate of the risk to consumers would depend on the accumulated results of surveillance for BSE in sheep up to that time. It therefore recommended that the policy be kept under review and that any policy agreed now on a contingency basis should urgently be reconfirmed taking into account the circumstances at the time of any finding of BSE in a UK sheep.
agreed that a graduated contingency plan was required and that this paper provided the overall architecture for such a plan
agreed that more work would have to be done before such a plan could be finalised
agreed that a number of key uncertainties on this issue had been highlighted, such as: when BSE in sheep could be identified with confidence; at what point the contingency plan should be initiated; the nature of epidemiological research that would be required; what constitutes an 'unrelated flock'; and related questions on geography and timing
agreed to remit these questions to the Agency's TSE division and to SEAC.
Eating for health
This paper considered the programme of work that has been put in place to address the strategic objectives on dietary health agreed in 2004 and provides an update on developments since then.
agreed that these and other developments should be taken into account in an autumn review of the Strategic Plan
requested costings and, if practicable, a cost benefit analysis
asked for targets to be developed on progress towards outcomes, rather than on levels of activity
agreed that one of the sectors to be focused on would be the catering sector
agreed that, in the meantime, the Agency will continue to focus on reformulation, signposting, the reduction of saturated fats in the diet and folate:
- agreeing advice to UK Health Ministers on improving the folate status of young women, then taking action forward as appropriate
- reformulation and public awareness work aimed at reducing salt intakes
- development and implementation of a strategy to reduce saturated fat intakes to below 11% of food energy and encourage calorie balance
- promoting the Agency's agreed approach to front of pack signpost labelling and assessing impact in practice
agreed that the Agency will continue to develop an innovative communications approach that engages a range of audiences with practical information and advice and helps address obstacles to achieving a healthier diet
agreed that the Agency will develop a strategy for engagement with local initiatives in England.
FSA response to Ofcom consultation on broadcast advertising of food to children
This paper provided an update on developments since the Board's discussion in May 2006 on Ofcom's consultation proposals on tightening controls on broadcast advertising to children and sought agreement to the Agency response to the consultation.
agreed to a response to the consultation as outlined in an annex to this paper.
The FSA was set up in April 2000 against a background of loss of public
confidence in the food safety regulatory system, with critical decisions having
been taken in secret. Since then, the FSA's independent status as a non-
Ministerial Government Department and powers under the legislation have
enabled an open and transparent approach to be developed and implemented in handling the assessment, management and communication of food safety issues.
This paper – as a precursor to a more wide ranging review of this subject – asked the Board for guidance on two specific areas; opening Board briefings to the public, and the naming of food companies.
An opportunity was also taken to inform the Board about activity under the Freedom of Information Act.
Agreed that the Board should have a fuller and more strategic discussion on Openness later in the year. This would be based on a paper analysing the Agency's policies and procedures with those of comparable organisations and with 'best practices'.
The discussion would need to encompass the work of the MHS and the Agency in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and adhere to the Board's principles of sustainability, including cost-effectiveness.
In the meantime it was agreed that the existing policies relating to Board briefings and the naming of brands or food companies should continue.
Finally, the Board Members were urged to submit to the Secretariate any suggestions for background information that would be helpful in the debate.
To listen to the proceedings of the June Board meeting, go to the link below.