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Nutrition on the Internet
The last article in this series gave a detailed account of the consultative and legislative activities that led in the UK from the initiation of the concept of a Food Standards Agency (May 1997) to the formal Royal Assent of the Food Standards Act 1999 (November 1999).
This article begins by identifying a couple of European Union initiatives that may (together) lead to the establishment of an EU-wide institution with similar areas of responsibilities.
The second part of the article notes that the UK has not been alone in the establishment of a food safety/food standards agency. The Web sites of three recently-established equivalents are reviewed.
Web site reviews
European Union agencies
Two separate proposals have been made with respect to the creation of an EU agency with broad powers in the area of food safety and standards policy:
In May 1999, the EU Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection asked three eminent members of the Scientific Steering Committee to reflect upon the appropriateness of the current system of scientific advice to the Commission. A report on the future of scientific advice has been presented to the Commission and published. The report recognises a lack of consumer and industry confidence in the current system. It also identifies a need to communicate more effectively to show how the scientific risk assessment links with both the effective management of crises and the steady pursuit of higher health and environmental standards. The key feature is the recommendation that the EU should establish a new independent body - a European Food and Public Health Authority. The full text of the report is available at the following URL: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/future_food_en.html
The European Commission has adopted and published a White Paper on food safety. This proposes the establishment of a new European Food Authority. The responsibilities given to the new body would include:
establishment of risk assessments through scientific advice;
information gathering and analysis;
communication on food safety matters; and
rapid alert system for food crises.
The Commission has set out a rapid and ambitious implementation schedule for the creation of its proposed new Authority:
White Paper published: January 2000.
Consultation period: end of April 2000.
Commission proposal: September 2000.
Enabling legislation: December 2001.
Authority starts operation: during 2002.
The paper (Commission document COM (1999) 719 final) also gives a (very useful) detailed list of forthcoming legislative actions in the area of food for the next couple of years. As indicated above, the paper is subject to a consultation period that ended April 2000.The full text of the White Paper is available on the Internet at the following URL: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/library/pub/pub06_en.pdf
Other new agencies
New bodies with responsibilities for food safety/food standards matters have also been created in the last year or so in Canada, France and Ireland. Similarly, agencies with responsibilities equivalent to those to be taken up by the UK Food Standards Agency have existed for some time elsewhere in the world.
The following sections will look at the three newcomers in alphabetical order.
Canada has undertaken a significant restructuring of its food safety and standards legislation and the agencies that ensure its proper development and enforcement over the past couple of years. The principal driving force for these changes was the challenge of co-ordinating controls on a wide range of food matters (which range from nutrition through to prevention of foodborne disease).
In 1997, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was established to consolidate all food inspection related resources at the federal (national) level.
Details of the work of the CFIA are available at the following URL: http://www.cfia-acia.ca/english/toc.html (as with all official Web sites in Canada, this is paralleled by a French language Web site).
The above URL gives access to a table of contents with links to a wide range of information on such matters as:
overview of the Agency's work;
acts and regulations;
inspection procedures and manuals;
consumer food safety;
industry aspects of food safety (including HACCP);
food retail; and
science and technology.
Each of the above are broad subject areas and within each area there is a wealth of information on the Canadian systems and procedures.
When it established the CFIA, the Canadian Government set in place a system of "checks and balances" by giving the Minister of Health responsibilities for assessment and evaluation of the Agency's activities related to food safety. Health Canada, through its food program, also has the authority to set safety and nutritional standards and policies.
The food program of Health Canada is operated through a number of bureaux including the following:
Bureau of Food Policy Integration;
Bureau of Food Regulatory, International and Interagency Affairs;
Bureau of Microbiological Hazards; and
Bureau of Food Safety Assessment.
Information on these bureaux can be obtained via the following URL: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/english/organization/organisational_structure.html
The Health Canada policy on its assessment responsibilities in respect of food safety is described in a document available at the following URL: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/english/organization/food_safety_assessement/policy.htm
Canada is presently updating its food legislation by introducing the Canada Food Safety and Inspection Bill which brings forward key elements of earlier legislation whilst redrafting these to improve Health Canada's implementation of its mandate in this matter. A briefing paper on the Bill (and hence on the proposed Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act) is available at the following URL: http://www/hc-sc.gc.ca/food-aliment/english/subjects/food_bill.html
L'Agence Franµaise de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (AFSSA) is a key element of a new approach to public health in France that was created as part of a series of measures introduced in mid-1998. A decree of 26 March 1999 formally created the Agency.
The Agency operates under the aegis of three Ministries - those charged with Health, Agriculture, and Consumer Affairs. The Agency has a remit that extends from primary production through to the final consumer. It is intended that the Agency will give advice on each of the following:
the processes and conditions of production;
final distribution of food.
It is intended also that the new Agency will draw together and co-ordinate the previously disparate work of a wide range of organisations and centres such as, for example, the following:
Commission de Technologie Alimentaire (CTA);
Commission Interministérielle d'Etude des Produits Destinés à une Alimentation Particuliére (CEDAP);
Commission Interministérielle et Interprofessionale de l'Alimentation Animale (C2I2A); and
Centre National d'Etudes et de Recommandations sur la Nutrition et l'Alimentation (CNERNA).
(Note that the above is not the complete list.)
The AFSSA has a staff of around 700 people.
The general URL to access the AFSSA Web site is: http://www.afssa.fr/
Much of the AFSSA Web site is currently noted as "provisional" at the date of writing (January 2000); this clarification refers to the content rather than to the URL.
The AFSSA Web site includes:
texts of press communications; and
texts of advice given to the French Government; for example, on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (see below) and on dioxin contamination of foods.
The AFSSA was brought to the attention of the UK public in October 1999 when a report prepared for the AFSSA was used by the French Government to challenge the advice given by the European Commission's Scientific Steering Committee (SSC). A series of SSC reports over a period of months had considered the conditions needed for the removal of the prohibition of exports of beef from the UK.
As a direct consequence of this scientific advice the European Commission had proposed and the Council of Ministers agreed to a decision (28 December 1998) relating to the removal of the prohibition of beef exports from the UK. This decision is conditional on the establishment of a date-based export scheme.
The AFSSA document necessitated a re-opening of the BSE debate and a series of reports in this matter have been published as follows:
The AFSSA report is available (in French only) at the following URL: http://www.sante.gouv.fr/htm/actu/31_991001_avis.htm
The AFSSA report was examined by the SSC (which coincidentally is chaired by an eminent French scientist) and it was rejected. The URL for the English language version of the SSC report is: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/ssc/out62_en.html
The SSC consideration was advised by a specialist ad hoc group; the report from this group is available at the following URL: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/ssc/out62_en.html
The AFSSA site is clearly still under development as might be expected for a new agency. The Agency itself is also still under development, and the following observation highlights a key difference between French and UK procedures.
The Agency published (in December 1999) a request for persons to put themselves forward as expert candidates for a number of committees that the Agency is intending to establish. This is very different from the UK. In France, there is a call for experts to offer their services as members of these. In the UK, government officials determine who are the experts and invite such persons to participate. The URL for the call was: http://www.agriculture.gouv.fr/alim/pres/cand_afssa.htm (it is likely that pages such as this will be short-lived and will be removed once the task has been completed).
Republic of Ireland
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has the mission of protecting the (Irish) consumers' health by ensuring that the food consumed, distributed, marketed or produced in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene.
The FSAI can trace its origins to the then Government's establishment of a Food Safety Advisory Board in 1995. The establishment of an independent food safety organisation (the FSAI) was proposed in a 1996 report. As in the UK, the major push for the creation of the new Authority came with a change of Government. The current Government took office in July 1997 and adopted the following principles:
consumer confidence in Irish food products needs to be paramount;
Ireland must be in a position to give "uncompromised and independent verifiable assurances as to the quality of its food products".
In July 1998, the FSAI was created by Act of Parliament and was formally established on 1 January 1999. The Authority took over all the food regulatory functions previously lodged with a range of older institutions and now has powers that apply from "farm to fork".
The Web site operated by the FSAI can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.fsai.ie/
The site includes information as follows:
About the authority:
the role of the Authority;
the membership of its governing Board; and
membership of its Scientific Committee and this group's responsibilities.
statistics on food-borne illness;
public knowledge and attitude survey on food safety in Ireland;
report on food safety and genetically modified foods; and
document on prevention of E. coli O157:H7 infection.
food hygiene training;
survey of egg usage.
The site also includes links to other food-related Web sites - this list is international in nature but is especially useful for contacting Irish food organisations.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement that has led to devolution of Government in Northern Ireland, there is to be collaboration between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in a number of areas. Food safety is one of the areas selected for the creation of an "implementation body"; the Food Safety Promotion Board will have responsibility for the following functions throughout the island:
promotion of food safety;
research into food safety;
communication of food alerts;
surveillance of foodborne disease;
promotion of scientific co-operation and links between laboratories; and
development of cost-effective laboratory services.
At the time of preparation of this article (January 2000), the Food Safety Promotion Board is not yet in operation but it is highly likely that it will have a Web presence in due course. It is probable that the URL for this Web site will be added to the links listed on the FSAI Web site.
Other national agencies
A number of other national agencies with responsibilities for food safety/food standards have been reviewed in earlier editions of Nutrition & Food Science. (Readers are referred to the earlier reviews but should always note that Web sites may be revised with relative ease by the originator and hence the material now available may prove to be quite different from that seen when the original review was prepared.)
The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) - reviewed in Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 29 No. 5, 1999, p. 255. The URL is: http://www.fda.gov/fdahomepage.html
This article illustrates that the UK is not alone in its quest to establish a new agency with responsibilities relating to food safety and to food standards. Examination of the Web sites of equivalent agencies located in other countries provides information on alternative approaches and also on a range of scientific studies; those provide additional information pertinent to issues current in this country.
If you have identified a Web site likely to be of interest to readers of Nutrition & Food Science please contact the author of this series of articles as follows: by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; by fax to 01234 766926 or 01582 743237; by post to the University of Luton.
Dr Stephen FallowsUniversity of Luton
There may be other new food agencies of which I am not yet aware and others will, no doubt, be created. If any reader knows of other new agencies, I would be pleased to receive information on these and (of couse) I am particularly interested in identifying links to the Web sites operated by them. Any sites identified by readers will be included in future reviews in this series of articles.
As with the new food agencies, there are other established organisations, the Web sites of which I have not explored. If any readers can point me to relevant URLs, this would be appreciated.