25 May 2000
Public attend FSA board meeting

By FWi staff

THE Food Standards Agency broke new ground on Thursday (25 May) by allowing the public into its first board meeting, held at Kensington Town Hall in London.

The FSA has pledged to be as open and accessible as possible as it tries to gain public confidence and will continue to hold open meetings.

The agenda focused on how the agency was to operate and included discussions on getting the public involved in policy-making and research.

On Wednesday the FSA held an open “stakeholders” meeting, also in Kensington, to discuss the form its inquiry into BSE controls will take.

Nearly 30 representatives of interested parties were invited to the meeting to give their input.

The inquiry, the FSAs first, is due to be published at the end of October and will advise the government on whether the current BSE controls in place are appropriate.

It will consider whether they are proportionate to the assessed risk to humans of contracting new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), the human form of BSE.

FSA chairman Professor Sir John Krebs told stakeholders that the inquiry will be based on the best scientific advice available.

He explained that it will use advice from SEAC, the governments advisory body on BSE, and experts from other fields of science.

Farmers are hoping the review will lead to changes in the Over Thirty Month Scheme, which would allow older cattle into the food chain.

The inquiry will also consider specified risk material regulations and the ban on various products in animal feed.

It will also focus the risk of there being BSE in sheep and the threat this could pose to the public.

“The inquiry could lead to a tightening of the rules, as well as a relaxation,” said Prof Krebs.

The remit will extend to the issue of the safety of meat imports and the way BSE controls are implemented in other countries.

It will also consider how the costs, social and economic, associated with the rules compare with other public safety precautionary measures and how costs vary across the meat industry.

But there was controversy at the meeting when the FSA was criticised for not using the inquiry to examine other possible causes of nvCJD.

Alan Lawrence, of the UK Renderers Association, called for the inquiry to look beyond food at the possible role of medicine, or for a separate inquiry to be set up to examine the issue.

Prof Krebs pointed out that the safety of medicines is not under the FSAs remit and that SEAC does look at other routes of transmission.

“That food chain is the primary route of infection will be taken as given. I believe we have to stick to that, otherwise we will not produce anything of use to the public,” he said.