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Study with eyes wide open

By Rick Pendrous , 30-Jun-2008

Experts raise concerns over FSA's possible adoption of 'open access' research policy

Industry experts have raised concerns about the Food Standards Agency (FSA) adopting an 'open access' policy for publication of its research.

Their fears have emerged from the controversy following the publication of research into the effect of colourants on children.

Traditionally scientific research is peer-reviewed by experts in the field before being published in respected academic journals, which sometimes have a virtual stranglehold on publication. The process is often very time-consuming and restricts the distribution of information.

Increasingly, academics are exploring 'open access' publication which, while retaining validation of the research, would result in studies being more quickly disseminated online.

FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said: "We are also investigating open access publication, which would speed things up."

However, leading industry experts and academics are increasingly worried that the FSA is too much led by public opinion. Concerns were raised regarding the research it commissioned from Southampton University into the consumption of food additives by children.

Several commentators were highly critical of the FSA's call for an EU-wide ban on the six colours used in the study, which was subsequently rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its failure to identify the effects of individual additives.

One source said: "It makes me nervous about how they will handle 'open access' - let alone peer review - going forward."

FSA deputy chair Dr Ian Reynolds and Wadge defended the Southampton research. Wadge said: "The EFSA evaluation was quite properly a critical evaluation of some scientific work ... the area where the criticism lay was in relation to the difficulty in trying to measure behavioural effects in young children - there are so many variable factors."

In a discussion document, the FSA stated: "The balance of public interest may change and therefore the FSA would aim to publish at the earliest appropriate opportunity information that had been previously withheld."

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