Food policies and advice based on the best available science are needed to protect consumers from 1M cases of UK foodborne illness every year, according to the food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA’s chief scientist Dr Andrew Wadge told the webinar ‒ Food fact and fiction: separating science from myth ‒ last week (January 24) that “It is important to recognise there are still 1M cases of foodborne illness in the UK each year, resulting in 20,000 hospital admissions and about 500 deaths.
“As well as the obvious public health impact this causes, the estimated cost to the UK economy approaches some £2bn.”
Special interest agendas
Wadge said that food industry regulation should deliver effective controls to underpin safety and trust among consumers and food businesses. “Basing policies on science and evidence provided a level playing field so consumers can be confident that decisions are grounded in the latest state of scientific understanding and not on special interest agendas,” he said.
Science was the starting point of the analysis of risks in relation to food. That process was an interaction between risk assessment, risk management and risk communication, he said. “The risk analysis process has to balance the science and evidence against other factors such as impact and proportionality and social or political issues.”
The aim is to ensure effective risk management and communication but “not at the expense of ignoring the science or constraining innovation or consumer choice”, said Wadge.
Excessive or ineffective control can stifle innovation, which could ultimately be detrimental to consumers, he warned.
But there may be legitimate reasons why risk managers might want to depart from the science. A good example was animal cloning. The independent scientific advice from European Food Safety Authority is that meat from cloned animals provides no different risks to those from non cloned animals, said Wadge.
“However, for reasons of animal welfare, consumer and ethical concerns, the Food Standards Agency Board advised that meat from cloned animals should not be approved for use in the food chain,” he said.
The key issue was the need for transparency in how the scientific risk assessment has been used in developing policy and advice. The FSA meets in open session, so decisions on food policies are open and transparent and available for scrutiny by all, he said.
To hear Wadge’s presentation in full, listen to our webinar here .
The webinar was organised by FoodManufacture.co.uk and the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).
Watch out for more reports from the food science and technology webinar later this week on Food Manufacture.co.uk and in Food Manufacture magazine next month. Reserve your copy here .
Foodborne illness in numbers
- 1M – UK cases of foodborne illness each year
- 500 – Deaths caused by foodborne illness
- 100M – Cost in pounds to the UK food industry of contamination by dye Sudan 1
- 50 – Deaths caused by E.coli outbreak in Germany in 2011
- 100M – Cost in euro of compensation for German cucumber growers, who were initially held responsible for E.coli outbreak but later found not to have caused the health alert.