Agency not a cure-all

6 March 1998

Agency not a cure-all

ESTABLISHING a food standards agency will not guarantee that food is safe, according to industry leaders who met in London this week to discuss the governments proposals for the agency.

Martin van Zwanenberg, Marks and Spencers divisional director, claimed that the United States, which has had a food agency – the Food and Drug Administration – for many years, reported up to 30m cases of food poisoning last year. Those resulted in 9000 deaths and highlighted that such an organisation did not mean the end of food poisoning.

But delegates agreed the FSA would allow the entire food industry to work much closer under the direction of the agency, with the overall aim of minimising the risk to human health by identifying causes of food poisoning sooner in the chain.

At a separate conference in Edinburgh, Phil Thomas, principal of the Scottish Agricultural College, maintained that the FSA would have no effect on the level of food poisoning in the UK because there was a limited understanding of the organisms involved.

His views were supported by Hugh Pennington who led the government inquiry into the E.coli 0157 outbreak, which killed 20 people in Scotland in 1996.

"There are many unanswered questions. And as more infections are reported, more uncertainties are uncovered. It is because of this ignorance that we cannot say why E.coli 0157 is such a problem in Scotland," said Prof Pennington.

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