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Web site reviews
The previous article in this series had a specific focus - the use of the concept of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) in food safety management. This article takes a more general view of the food-related material available on the Internet and thus does not focus on a specific topic. Instead, the review revisits a number of major information providers to note some of the things that are new since previous visits.
Web site reviews
1. UK Government sites
The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) has moved to increase the level of openness in its deliberations. For the first time, it has released, for consultation, a draft of a forthcoming report. This report focuses on food intolerance.
The draft report runs to 95 pages and, following an executive summary, considers:
dermal symptoms of adverse reactions to food;
gastrointestinal symptoms of adverse reactions to food;
respiratory symptoms of adverse reactions to food;
effects of adverse reactions to foods on the central nervous system and behaviour;
other clinical effects that may be related to adverse reactions to foods;
diagnosis, investigation and management;
The document is clearly declared as a consultation draft that does not represent the final views of the COT. It is also noted that the document should not be "quoted or cited" - in order to respect this requirement the COT's prospective conclusions have not been reported here (they are, of course, available in the draft document).
The relevant URL is as follows: http://www.doh.gov.uk/intolera.htm
Food control statistics
It is a requirement under 1989 EU Directive on the Official Control of Foodstuffs that each EU Member State provides an annual return detailing the number and nature of food control inspections, prosecutions and convictions.
Copies of the UK's statistical return for 1998 are available at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk.food/foodindx.htm
It should be noted that there are significant doubts about the utility of these statistics which concentrate on enumerating inspection visits without the necessity of due regard to the evaluation of risk and appropriate prioritisation of attention onto those premises likely to present hazards to health or other problems.
Food Labelling Bill
The process through which a Bill progresses into an agreed Act of Parliament has been detailed previously with reference to the Food Standards Act 1999.
At the time of writing, the Food Labelling Bill is before Parliament. The first reading was on 15 December 1999 with the second reading on 3 March 2000 (this reading was not completed and the Commons are to return to the Bill on 9 June 2000). The Bill makes provisions for consumers to be given more information about the country of origin and standards of production of food on sale through labelling, marking or in other ways.
This Bill is presented as a Private Members Bill (rather than being a part of the Government's official legislative programme) and is most unlikely to reach acceptance as an Act of Parliament.
The methodology to access Parliamentary documents described in detail with respect to the Food Standards Act 1999 also applies here.
Meanwhile, the official UK Government guidelines on the labelling of foods with respect to country of origin are available (along with other documents relating to food labelling) at the following URL:
Food Surveillance Papers
For some years, MAFF has published a series of Food Surveillance Papers that summarise the results of surveillance exercises with respect to nutritional quality of foods, authenticity, contamination levels or other matters relating to the foods surveyed.
The general index for the surveillance reports is available at the following URL:
The papers published in the first three months of 2000 provide an indicative (though but obviously not fully representative) sample of what can be accessed at the above URL.
No 192 Mycotoxins in maize;
No 193 Duplicate diet study of vegetarians - exposure to metals and other elements;
No 194 Nutrient analysis of bread and morning goods;
No 195 Nutrient analysis of ice creams and desserts;
No 196 Nutrient analysis of cheese;
No 197 Apple juice authenticity surveillance report;
No 198 Iodine in milk;
No 199 Multi-element survey of wide edible fungi and blackberries.
2. European Union
Opinions from the Scientific Committee for Food
The SCF met on 9 March and expressed three Opinions based upon its scientific evaluations. Each Opinion can be downloaded from the Internet. The Opinions were as follows:
on the re-evaluation of acesulfame K (following a 1991 evaluation)The URL is http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/scf/out52_en.pdf
on cyclamic acid and its sodium and calcium saltsThe URL is http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/scf/out53_en.pdf
on the safety assessment of the nuts of the Ngali treeThe URL is http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/scf/out54_en.pdf
The SCF also released a minute statement as follows:
on patulinThe URL is http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/scf/out55_en.pdf
The first two of the above four documents refer to artificial sweeteners (Acesulfame K and cyclamates). The third document is concerned with the possible introduction of a novel food that has not previously been eaten in Europe. The fourth and final item concerns patulin, which is a mycotoxin that has commonly been found to be present in apple juice, produced from poor quality ingredients; the European Commission is presently developing legislation concerning mycotoxin contamination.
3. International organisations
At the end of February 2000, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development held a major international conference in Edinburgh on "GM Food Safety: Facts, Uncertainties, and Assessment". The UK Government hosted the conference that was chaired by Sir John Krebs who was (at the time) about to take up the post of Chairman of the UK's new Food Standards Agency.
During the conference, the proceedings were broadcast live on the Internet.
The event, was a part of the larger programme of work at the OECD to review and report on aspects of biotechnology and food safety. This work is being conducted in response to mandates from OECD Ministers and a request from leaders of the Group of Eight industrial countries for a report on GM foods for consideration at the Group's next meeting in Okinawa later in 2000.
The conference brought together, by invitation, approximately 400 participants. These were leading experts from academia, consumer and other interest groups, industry, international organisations, developing countries, OECD government representatives, and the press.
The purpose of the Conference was to achieve a constructive dialogue on the safety of GM food, with an emphasis on the underlying science and on human health. Key questions addressed included:
What is the state of scientific understanding of the genetic modification of foods, and what are the areas in which scientific uncertainty exists? What are the current trends and future prospects? What are the potential benefits and risks?
How do the natural and social sciences help us understand and ensure the safety of GM foods (for example, by comparing the health risks associated with GM and conventional foods)? How do consumers perceive food safety risks?
How is GM food safety assessed within existing regulatory frameworks?
Is further international co-operation on scientific GM food safety issues required
All information about this conference can be found at the following URL: http://www.oecd.org/subject/biotech/edinburgh.htm
The texts of contributions to the conference can be downloaded as pdf files.
The chairman's summary report being prepared after the conference will also be made available at the above URL.
The site also includes a full list of delegates.
If you have identified a Web site likely to be of interest to readers of British Food Journal please contact the author of this series of articles at one of the addresses given below. Acknowledgement will be given to those providing such identification.
By e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
By fax to 01234 766926 or 01582 743237
By post at the University of Luton
Stephen FallowsUniversity of Luton