Dave Baines, IFST representative on the MChemA committee, and Jane McLauchlin, RSC Registration Officer for the MChemA, comment on the likely impact of the changes recommended in the Elliott Review on the ability of the Public Analyst Scientific Services to deliver an effective food safety service.
The Final Report of the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks – A National Food Crime Prevention Framework – was published in September 2014. The review was triggered by growing concerns about the systems used to deter, identify and prosecute food adulteration in the wake of the horse meat ‘crisis’. Professor Elliott took into account issues that impact upon consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products and systematic failures in networks and systems with implications for public health and made eight main recommendations under the following headings: Consumers first, Zero tolerance, Intelligence gathering, Laboratory services, Audit, Government support, Leadership, and Crisis management. Included in the recommendations is the establishment of a National Food Safety and Food Crime Committee and a Food Crime Unit.
A key observation resulting from the review is that food safety is well served in the UK, supported by the latest technologies and resources making it one of the safest food supplies in the world. However, food integrity and the authenticity and provenance of food have received much less attention and the effectiveness of preventative measures can only improve if control systems and scientific methodologies are strengthened.
The remit of the review did not extend to the details of planning, implementation or financing the recommendations, and the Government in its response did not set out how to deliver them.
Within Chapter 5 of the Review, Laboratory services, section 5.15 makes the following observations and recommendations:
‘A shared, merged public sector laboratory service is the only option to secure the public sector laboratory system. This sort of project has been discussed before, but has never progressed. The urgency is increasing; in 2010 there were 10 public sector Public Analyst laboratories, now there are only six (since 2010, the public sector Public Analyst laboratories at Bristol, Durham, Leicester and Somerset have closed). This may be the last opportunity to create a resilient, robust, shared service that will provide a sustainable national asset to the UK. It needs to retain momentum, and the commitment of those involved. There are two key roles here; one to provide objective, neutral facilitation of the project group and one to scrutinise progress and make recommendations for how the process can be improved. The first role could be fulfilled by a professional body like the Institute of Food Science and Technology and the second by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee.’
This has implications for the scientific and technical capability of a modernised, integrated Public Analyst Scientific Service and the training to ensure a sustainable supply of what the report refers to as a ‘critical mass’ of Public Analysts.
The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) have considered the Elliott review and make observations focusing solely on the likely impact of the recommended changes on the ability of the Public Analyst Scientific Services to deliver an effective food safety service, coupled with a more robust food authenticity service to meet the needs of consumers.
- Funding of a modernised Public Analyst Scientific Services
The recommendations in the Elliott Review represent the perfect opportunity to improve the scientific base of the Public Analyst Scientific Services and address the possibility of any further deterioration of laboratory capacity. A modernised shared service of Local Authority laboratories could have access to top class instrumentation, data capture and laboratory facilities and operate to standardised procedures using recognised validated methodologies. National Reference Laboratories would support this network, and should also have a remit to develop new testing methodologies and performance criteria and to undertake research to keep the standard of public analysis at the forefront of scientific endeavour. This could create what the report calls ‘a national asset’ comparable with Public Health England’s microbiological laboratory network, providing the necessary funding is made available by Government. A substantial proportion of Public Analyst work in England is performed by private sector laboratories, and their contribution also needs to be considered in any proposals.
- Structural changes to the Public Analyst Scientific Services
It has been proposed that the IFST could act as broker to oversee changes to Local Authority Laboratories. The IFST is an independent body with no vested interest except a dedicated remit to promote scientific excellence in the food science field. Other organisations with appropriate expertise, the RSC and the Association of Public Analystsshould also contribute to this process. Any moves to change the existing structure of the Public Analyst laboratories must put science as a first priority. The IFST would be willing to play a role in facilitating the new merged public sector laboratory service and would take its obligations seriously using the considerable depth of expertise at its disposal.
- Resources in the event of emergencies
The new structure would be capable of responding to food safety and food authenticity crises by having a flexible base of resources giving it a surge capacity for emergency response. Changes to the management structure of the Public Analyst Scientific Services could make this easier to implement in cooperation with other stake holders. Public Analysts would be recruited onto the proposed new ‘National Food Safety and Food Crime Committee’ as a source of scientific and technical expertise.
- Training and qualifications
The Mastership in Chemical Analysis (MChemA) is the statutory qualification for appointment by Food Authorities to the position of Public Analyst. It addresses scientific control of the entire food chain and is awarded by the RSC. IFST is represented on the RSC MChemA Examinations Board, taking a keen interest in the quality ofthe award and ensuring that it maintains its relevance to the food industry. The MChemA Examinations Board continually reviews the syllabus to ensure it meets the needs of the profession; this will continue to support any future changes. The reviewalso highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining effective testing methods, with a key role for several bodies including the Analytical Methods Committee of the RSC.
Dr Dave Baines runs Baines Food Consultancy Ltd, 22 Elizabeth Close, Thornbury, Bristol BS35 2YN, UK
Email: email@example.com Tel: +44 (0)1454 418104 Web: http://www.bfc.demon.co.uk/
Dr Jane McLauchlin, CSci MRSC, is Registration Officer at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, WIJ 0BA, UK
Email: McLauchlinJ@rsc.org Tel: +44 (0)20 7437 8656 Web: www.rsc.org