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Live Blog of FSA Chief Scientist

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  • 04/06/10--09:19: Normal service is suspended
  • You won’t need to read this blog to know that the Prime Minister announced the general election today. During the general election campaign the Food Standards Agency websites will continue to provide essential information as normal but, like all Government department websites, we are subject to restrictions during the pre-election period. To meet the Cabinet Office guidelines, I will not be publishing blogs during this period, although we will continue to give factual responses to your queries where we can. See you in May…

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    With the election period over I’m pleased to be blogging again.

    Although our communications have been quiet and the papers have been flooded with election news, I've noticed there’s still been a trickle of food stories covering the usual breadth of topics, including a raft of foods tipped for their supposed cancer prevention properties.

    And although I’m a little reluctant to quote the Guardian quoting the Times, I was interested to read an article at the end of last week about the ever changing list of foods that may either cause or prevent cancer and about people’s frustration that scientists always appear to be changing their mind. This in itself is not surprising, but it's also nothing new the Guardian was quoting an article from 1927.

    The article also considers the results of a YouGov survey, which showed 52% of people think scientists are always changing their minds about cancer, and that 46% say they don’t trust news coverage about cancer. I am confident that one of the key strengths in the Agency’s advice is that it’s based on the best available science and evidence, so this article raises some interesting challenges for us.

    How do we make sure important messages and research findings don’t get lost amongst the media spin? And how can we work best with the public and the media to improve people’s trust in science?


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  • 05/19/10--02:48: Campylo–what?
  • The media spin about food that Andrew wrote about here earlier this week is one of the things I worry about as the Food Standards Agency’s Chief Executive – which is why I’ve grabbed the blog to add my thoughts. I worry particularly when we talk publicly about complex risks at our open Board meetings, as we did last week. We discussed at some length a bug that most people have never heard of, but which poisons more than 300,000 people every year and kills about a hundred. ‘Campylo-what?’

    So I was pleased that we didn’t provoke a bunch of ill-informed headlines about a ‘new’ food scare. Campylobacter has for a long time been the major cause of foodborne illness  in the UK – one in every three people with food poisoning can blame campylobacter – but it’s high on our agenda as it’s bucked the generally downward trend  for food poisoning over the past few years.

    Science provided the solution that broke the back of our salmonella problem in poultry – a vaccine for laying flocks and a range of other measures for broiler flocks. We don’t yet have comparable solutions for campylobacter, although as our recent international meeting showed there are some interventions that are effective elsewhere in the world that we could implement immediately.

    If Andrew were writing this he could talk about the direction our research will take. Fine: but come on, we know enough now to be clear about ‘what works’ throughout most of the supply chain. One of the great advantages we have in the UK is a retailer universe that is rationalised, smart and very clear with their suppliers about what they want. What we want I think they want and I know consumers deserve: clean fresh poultry. My challenge is that they should, with revised specifications and financial incentives, help us to control campylobacter infection and make a substantial cut in that 300,000 figure.

    Of course, we need to know more about the microbiology of campylobacter to understand what biosecurity measures work best and what washes or processes or treatments cut contamination most effectively and safely, and are acceptable to consumers. But I think we know enough to push suppliers to do what has been done in other countries to significantly reduce campylobacter, using known simple biosecurity measures.

    Science doesn’t give you instant answers. Sometimes data are contradictory or inconclusive. And it really doesn’t help when research gets reported out of context and out of proportion. But a combination of science and commercial pressure is where we’ll find the best available plan to tackle the 'campy' problem that has gone on for far too long.


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  • 05/21/10--09:19: Nanofoods – size matters
  • Having taken a swipe at media spin a few days ago, it’s good to finish the week flagging up a bit of media sense – no prizes for guessing it comes from New Scientist. Its editorial joins the chorus for more openness and honesty in discussions about nanofoods, particularly from the companies developing them.

    New Scientist warns, as we have, that the food industry is jeopardising the future of nanofoods by failing to trust consumers with the scientific facts as we currently know them. If this is relatively new territory, I’d steer you to our latest issue of Bite, which is devoted to nanofoods, then to the excellent Lords Select Committee report Nanotechnologies and Food and the government response. The response tasks the FSA with ensuring there is open dialogue and clear, accessible information for consumers, and we’ll pick up the pace on this with the new coalition government.

    There’s also an interesting point well made in the New Scientist editorial about the emphasis on size when categorising a branch of science, as is happening with nanotechnologies. I was reading about the giant bowl of hummus that has just reclaimed the Guinness World Record for Lebanon and it struck me that we don’t refer to processing individual chickpeas as ‘millitechnology,’ so why ‘nanotechology’ for any and all particles that fall into the nanoscale, and which can range in diameter over three orders of magnitude?

    The nanotechnologies brand is helpful for focusing attention, but it is a rather simplistic term that covers a wide range of very different functions, processes and products, which are all put at risk if the 'brand' is tarnished by a lack of trust.

    Is it time to focus less on the nanotechnology 'brand' and more on individual functions, properties and uses of nanotechnologies?


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  • 05/25/10--04:46: The data behind the review
  • The Agency published a scientific review of organic food last July, which found that there are no important nutrient differences or nutrition-related health benefits from eating organic food, compared with conventionally produced food.

    We knew this report would be of interest and its findings continue to be discussed almost 12 months on. So it’s good to see another paper from this review being peer reviewed and published in a leading scientific journal

    To coincide with this, we are publishing all the detailed raw data from the studies included in the systematic review on nutrient content, so people can see for themselves what information the team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine based their conclusions on.

    I’m sure that this is a subject that will continue to arouse strong opinions, but our job is examine whether these opinions are backed up by sound science. The Agency will consider new peer reviewed information as it becomes available, to ensure consumers get the information they need to make choices based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence. 


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  • 06/03/10--09:07: Babies are sweet enough
  • Personally I’ve always loved the flavour of honey, so I often opt for it when I fancy something sweet.  But the recent case of infant botulism in a 15-week-old baby who'd been fed honey concerned me. Although honey wasn’t definitely the cause of the botulism, it showed that health warnings to parents about feeding honey to babies aged less than a year aren’t being followed.
     
    Infant botulism occurs when babies under a year old ingest spores of Clostridium botulinum.  Due to the immaturity of the baby’s gut flora, the spores are able to germinate and produce a toxin in the intestinal tract.

    Bearing in mind how incredibly rare the illness is – only eight cases had been reported in the UK until the end of 2008 – some might say it’s barely worth worrying about, or that by highlighting the issue we’re being unnecessarily scaremongering.

    But the illness can sometimes be fatal. So why bother taking the risk, especially when there are other important reasons not to give honey to a baby?  For the first six months babies only need breast milk or infant formula, and as far as those precious milk teeth are concerned honey is no less damaging than sugar, despite it being thought of as ‘natural’.  It’ll also encourage a sweet tooth in just the same way. 

    Honey may well be a nice treat for us grown-ups, but when it comes to babies there’s no doubt that it’s best to just steer clear.


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  • 06/14/10--08:51: It's a man thing
  • I saw some sobering figures recently that show heart disease kills more than one in five men, and half of all 40-year-old men will develop heart disease sometime during the rest of their life. This is obviously an important issue that shouldn’t be ignored.

    That’s why the Agency is supporting Men’s Health Week, which begins today (14 June) and is organised by the Men’s Health Forum. The aim of Men’s Health Week is to communicate healthy lifestyle messages to men, both in terms of healthy eating and physical activity. And it’s a great opportunity for us to deliver our healthy eating messages in a partnership that appeals to men.

    We previously worked with the Men’s Health Forum to promote our advice in the popular ‘Living Healthily Haynes Mini Manual’. Looking through this healthy eating guide, it’s clear that just small changes in daily habits could have a big impact on improving men’s health, so it’s good to have the opportunity to remind men of its existence. We’ve also got healthy and safer eating advice for men on our eatwell website.


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    The Daily Mail, in not one but two rather sensational articles, calls for a ban on artificial trans fats in food. But to put the dangers of trans fats into perspective, as a nation we consume less than half the recommended maximum average intake in the UK (advised by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN)), so they’re not a cause for concern for the population as a whole.

    The danger with this kind of alarmist reporting on one small part of the diet is that it could result in attention, and resources, being diverted from more important issues. What we shouldn’t forget is that the evidence clearly shows we’re eating far more saturated fat, which has a much greater impact on public health and is the cause of more premature deaths than trans fats.
     
    The UK food industry has already voluntarily removed partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from lots of their products, which is the main source of artificial trans fats. So while we’re encouraging food businesses to maintain the reduction of artificial trans fats in food and to look for ways of reducing saturated fat, our focus should be on the bigger picture and helping to save more lives by getting people eating a healthier diet – lower in saturated fat and salt and with more fruit and vegetables.

    Maybe we should be thinking of adding sensationalist journalism to the list of public health issues that need to be tackled!


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    It’s good to see a newspaper ‘debunking’ a media health scare for a change, as The Times did on Tuesday with ‘Bugs lurk in your bag for life’. Like many others, I try to do my bit for the environment by reusing shopping bags, so I was equally concerned to see headlines last week proclaiming that reusable bags may harbour ‘killer bugs’.

    Several newspapers reported on the study from the University of Arizona, which, having tested the bags of 84 shoppers, found traces of E.coli on half of them. As all E.coli strains originate in the gut of warm-blooded animals, the presence of E. coli can indicate a general lack of hygiene but not necessarily the presence of a deadly pathogen. However, journalists appeared to have jumped to the conclusion that the researchers had found E.coli O157, one of the strains capable of causing serious human illness.

    You don’t need scientific research like this to tell you that it isn’t a good idea to leave food in the boot of a car during hot weather, or that these conditions would cause not only the bacteria that maybe on the bags to multiply, but any harmful bugs on the foods being stored in those bags as well. Keeping food cold is a key way to maintain its safety.

    It is also worth noting that the work was funded by the American Chemistry Council, the largest chemistry trade body in the US, and that the news of the study was released – possibly entirely co-incidentally – at the same time as the state of California debates whether or not to ban plastic bags.

    However shaky the science and reporting, and whatever bug is involved, this study does reinforce some important basic food safety messages – not least the need to take care that your shopping does not leak over your reusable bags!

    If you take care of your bags by cleaning them regularly – and, if you are worried about leaks, pack raw meat in a separate bag – there’s no need to stop using your bag for life or doing your bit for the environment. You can find out more about keeping food safe at eatwell.gov.uk/keepingfoodsafe/

     

     

     


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  • 07/09/10--03:35: Kicking out campylobacter
  • In Andrew’s absence this week, I’d like to hijack the blog and draw your attention to a new research initiative. We are commissioning a range of new research to tackle the food bug campylobacter, which causes about 300,000 cases of food poisoning a year. It is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK and this is why we are making it our top food safety priority for the next five years.

    Our aim is to better understand the science around campylobacter and more easily identify solutions for reducing the worrying levels of the bacteria on raw chicken. There is no one ‘magic bullet’ to solve the problem of campylobacter, but a better understanding of the science will allow us to work out which combination of solutions are best for the UK.

    The various pieces of research will look at the organism itself and the effect it has on its host, coupled with developing a better knowledge of the impact of various potential interventions.

    We are working closely with research partners and the food industry to tackle this problem and this research will help underpin all of our future action. In the meantime, there is action we can all take to avoid food poisoning from campylobacter: if food is prepared, handled, and cooked properly, avoiding cross-contamination with other food, then bugs will not have a chance to spread and cause harm.


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  • 10/26/09--10:55: Supporting family Supercooks
  • Now that the clocks have gone back, what better way to spend the longer evenings than in your own home with the family, watching the brand new FSA part-funded TV programme ‘Family Supercooks’. You can see it tonight on the Good Food channel at 9pm. The programme centres around 12 families who compete against each other to cook a three-course meal using their own recipes and the Agency will have the chance to get its scientific and evidence-based advice out to an estimated five million viewers. Working in partnership with a TV programme is a first for the Agency, but encouraging people to eat more healthily and having the opportunity for our nutritionists’ to input on healthy eating messages and tips seemed like a good food combo! If you don’t have the Good Food channel, more information about the programme plus featured recipes are available on eatwell.gov.uk, but try to tune in over the next couple of weeks and let me know what you think. I might have to dig out my apron!


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  • 10/30/09--10:44: An 'in-salt' to science
  • I usually like to keep my blogs short and to the point, but following a critical article about the Agency's salt policy in The Times earlier this week, I felt this needed a more detailed response. As Chief Scientist, my job is to ensure that the Agency draws its conclusions and bases its advice on the totality of evidence. So it concerned me when I read this selective view of science in relation to such an important public health issue.

    The article in question highlighted some studies that suggest there are no benefits to reducing people’s consumption of salt. It describes findings from a study that argues public policy to reduce salt intake is unrealistic because our appetite for salt is controlled by our central nervous system. The study analysed 24-hour urinary sodium excretion (the most accurate way to measure salt intake) from previously published surveys, which included data for 20,000 people in 33 countries and reported that salt intake ranged from 7 to 12 g a day. From this the authors concluded that salt intake is controlled within the range defined by these surveys. It’s a very odd argument that because usual intakes of salt are within a certain range this is how much we need. It’s not surprising so many populations have intakes within this range, in some ways diets across the world are similar, for example bread, breakfast cereals, savoury biscuits, tinned vegetables, soups, and ready-prepared meals form a large part of the diet, and can all be high in salt – in fact, most of our salt intake (about 75%) comes from foods we buy.

    The Times article mentions a study in the British Medical Journal in 2002 that concluded that while salt avoidance was helpful to those on medication for hypertension, there were no clear benefits for anyone else. This may be a reference to a systematic review by Hooper et al (2002) which assessed the long-term effects of advice to reduce dietary salt in adults with and without hypertension. This review found that the significant reductions in blood pressure observed at six and 12 months were not sustained over time. The findings reflect the difficulty in making substantial changes to the diet and complying with dietary advice, rather than the effectiveness of decreased salt intakes on blood pressure reduction.

    The Times article also states that a Cochrane review concluded ‘there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake’– but the study could only assess the short-term effects! And although they couldn’t assess the long-term effects, the review authors acknowledge that reduced sodium intake in those with elevated blood pressure has a ‘useful effect to reduce blood pressure in the short term’.

    The article also includes the views of a dietitian, who states that salt reduction is only important for people with high blood pressure. Well, the 2006 Health Survey for England showed 31% of men and 28% of women had high blood pressure – and it’s likely that lots more might also have high blood pressure that hasn’t been diagnosed. Because the risk of high blood pressure is so widespread, the population as a whole may be at a relatively high risk of cardiovascular disease. This just adds weight to our advice high blood pressure is a serious public health problem in the UK.

    But in fact the evidence shows, the risk from cardiovascular disease is not restricted to people with high blood pressure. A large study (Prospective Studies Collaboration, 2002) that combined the results of 61 studies of blood pressure and mortality with data for one million adults with no history of cardiovascular disease, found a relationship between increasing blood pressure and risk of death from cardiovascular disease. This is another reason why the Agency agreed a public health approach to reducing salt intake was needed.

    Additionally, the DASH sodium trial, a rigorous and large randomised controlled trial in which salt intake was tightly controlled, demonstrated that blood pressure was reduced in response to decreasing salt intakes for people both with high blood pressure and normal blood pressure.

    Contrary to these robust published trials, another scientist is quoted in The Times claiming that results from a randomised clinical trial showed that people with a lower salt diet suffered significantly more cardiovascular deaths and hospitalisations than people with a higher salt diet. We’ve looked and have been unable to find such a trial.

    The Agency recognises that we do need some salt in our diet as it is one way of obtaining sodium, which is an essential nutrient. Our recommendation is to reduce consumption of too much salt and cut down intakes to an appropriate level, i.e. no more than 6g a day for adults. This is still one and a half times more than the recommended nutrient intake for sodium (equivalent to 4g a day salt) and substantially more than the amount of salt required to maintain the sodium content of the body, but we have to set a realistic initial target.

    The sodium content of the blood is tightly regulated over a narrow physiological range. This means if we consume more salt than we need, the excess must be excreted by the kidneys to maintain the sodium content of the body. However, there is an upper limit to the rate at which sodium can be lost from the body. Intakes above this point can cause an increase of sodium in the body and this causes water to be retained in the body. This might not matter in the short-term, but if the amount of salt that exceeds the capacity for excretion is large, or if it’s maintained over a long period of time, it can lead to tissue damage and the development of higher blood pressure.

    The Agency’s advice to consume no more than 6g of salt a day is based on independent expert advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and this is based on a wide range of published scientific evidence (approximately 200 studies). We’re not alone on this – the 6g intake target is consistent with advice from the world’s leading scientific bodies, including the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine in the US.

    Agency advice is based on the totality of the available evidence, guided by independent experts, rather than the views of one or two individual scientists. The benefits of salt reduction are clear. The scientific consensus is that excessive salt consumption increases the risk of high blood pressure which, in turn, increases the chance of cardiovascular disease. That’s why the Agency will continue to campaign for a reduction in the salt intakes of the UK population, which are still considerably greater than the 6g a day target.

    I appreciate presentation of alternative views; considering all the available evidence ensures we can be confident our advice is based on sound science. But this article highlights how damaging it can be when only one side of an argument is presented and the full body of scientific evidence is not considered – is this bad science or sensationalist journalism?


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  • 11/05/09--02:23: RSC Chemistry Week 2009
  • Throughout this year the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has had a series of events showcasing the vital role of chemistry in food. It’s therefore not surprising that they chose food as the theme of Chemistry Week. Chemistry Week aims to increase public understanding of the importance of chemistry in our everyday lives and this year runs from 7 to 15 November. Chemistry plays a vital role in putting healthy food on our plate from farm to fork, including helping find solutions to global food shortages, testing the safety and capability of new technologies, developing intelligent sensors to detect when food has passed its ‘use by’ date, and discovering new environmentally friendly packaging materials. You can find out more about how chemistry impacts the Agency’s work – whether it’s as a result of chemicals that make up our food or those that accumulate in food as a result of human activities or natural processes – in my third Annual Report. The report was launched at the RSC in London in September and sets out progress in the Agency’s science over the past year, highlighting how it drives and underpins our advice and policy. With RSC events taking place throughout the UK, from functional foods to the chemistry of curry, you won’t need a lab coat to see how much chemistry affects our everyday lives.


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    If you’ve read the papers or watched the news over the weekend, you may be forgiven for thinking you now have the green light to consume 400 extra calories a day.

    This was the way that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN) draft report on Energy Requirements was widely reported in the media. It’s unfortunate that this is the way many journalists interpreted the draft report, as it’s simply not true, and is an irresponsible message considering the levels of obesity in this country.

    SACN, in its draft report, has estimated that people’s energy requirements are higher than previously calculated in 1991. This is because there is now more evidence available, based on a more accurate way of measuring energy expenditure, and SACN’s conclusions were based on this new evidence.

    The draft report stresses that this should not be interpreted to mean that people need to eat more, such as an extra cheeseburger as quoted in some media. Given the high, and increasing number of, people who are overweight and obese in the UK (about 60% of the population), it is clear that many people take in more calories than they need.

    Although the media got a bit overexcited about the draft report, the fact is that the Agency’s advice remains unchanged. That is, that people should maintain a healthy body weight, and for most people this means eating less and exercising more. Guidance to industry and food providers on calorie labelling also remains unchanged.

    There were accusations from some quarters about the Agency wanting to ‘sweep this report under the carpet'. It’s difficult to see where this claim came from, considering that we published a story on our website on 5 November, with a link to the full draft report.

    Once the scientific consultation is complete and SACN has considered all comments and finalised its report, it will then be the job of the Agency and health departments to carefully consider it. Again, this will all be made publicly available via our website.


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    As I write this, some of my colleagues are at a conference in Amsterdam, working with their counterparts from all over Europe to review and refine procedures to assess the safety of new foods and technologies, such as nanotechnology. Innovations in food technology are often the result of highly sophisticated scientific research, and while the end products can look like a ploy to increase profits for the food industry, (especially when, as in Times 2 article on Wednesday, we’re talking about pizza that can help us lose weight), the outputs are usually more practical, for example, the discovery of pasteurisation of milk is considered one of the major public health achievements of the 19th century. To further such advances, the Agency has funded a number of horizon-scanning projects over the years to look at what’s currently being developed by industry and universities. Although some of the technologies mentioned in the Times article, such as the radical sounding microencapsulation and high pressure processing could be viewed as novel foods or processes, many aren’t actually all that new. Microencapsulation has been used in probiotics for a number of years, and the safety of high pressure processing, as an alternative to heat pasteurisation, was evaluated for use in the EU a decade ago. It’s the Agency’s job to ensure all novel foods are safe before they are placed on the market, and there’s a well established regulatory framework in place to prevent people from having the wool pulled over their eyes, as Mr Renton puts it. The UK is very active in this area and the Agency is very open about the products it reviews under this Regulation, inviting the public to highlight any concerns they may have. And thanks to work underway in Europe, claims about the health benefits of these new foods will only be allowed if they are underpinned by robust scientific evidence.


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  • 12/17/09--03:41: Depicting risk
  • I was delighted to welcome Professor David Spiegelhalter to the Agency yesterday to give the fourth in our series of Chief Scientist lectures. David is not only a distinguished statistician, but also the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge. As a Bayesian statistician, he told us his philosophy was informed by two principles, firstly that probability does not exist and secondly all models are wrong, but some are more useful than others. It's always encouraging in my experience when professors are willing to show some humility about their models!

    What interested me was the different ways he has been experimenting with visually representing risks, for example using bar charts of icons, and pictures of smiley and sad faces to illustrate the numbers of people who, on average, will get bowel cancer over a lifetime (5 in 100) and how the risk changes if you eat bacon sandwiches (an extra 1) etc etc. It would be great to see how consumers react to these visual methods and how this might inform the way that we in the Agency communicate risk.

    For those of you who haven’t heard David speak on the subject of risk, you can see him on the following link: www.youtube.com


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    The Agency is committed to a science- and evidence-based approach in all that we do, and this is reaffirmed both in our new strategy and our new science and evidence strategy (which we will publish early next year – watch this space!).

    Independent expert advice is absolutely essential to this approach, and I welcome this week's publication of a set of principles that aim to ensure effective engagement between the Government and those who provide independent expert advice. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is inviting comments on these principles as part of a consultation on the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser’s guidelines for the use of scientific analysis in policy making, which runs until 9 February 2010.

    As I have said before, the journey from science advice to policy decision-making is complex, and needs to take into account wider issues beyond the confines of science.  So I think it is really helpful to have this discussion now, and to try to develop a shared understanding of how this complex process should work.  The Agency will be responding to this consultation and I will ask the independent General Advisory Committee on Science (GACS) for its views, to inform our response.

    Of course, what ultimately matters is how we live up to our principles in practice – in my view the best guarantee of that is to operate openly and transparently.  What do you think?


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    Christmas is always a good time to reflect on another year passing, so here are some of my thoughts:

    Most amusingBen Goldacre’s description of the Daily Mail’s Sisyphian project of categorising the whole of the inanimate world into those things that cause cancer and those that protect you from cancer! As Camus might have said, this one will roll and roll...

    Most sensible advice–‘Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison’. Paracelsus, or to give him his full name, Auroleus Phillipus Theostratus Bombastus von Hohe, is still the Godfather of toxicology after all these years!

    Best news– publication of the Science Review of the FSA, in which the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, described our approach to science as ‘impressive’.

    Most predictable– the response to the publication of a report that concluded that there are no important differences in nutrition content between organic and conventionally produced food. Predictably, we were criticised for our approach to science – see above!

    Most disappointing– the lack of progress in reducing campylobacter in chicken. Our survey published this year found that 65% of fresh chicken on sale in this country contains campylobacter, which is a major source of food poisoning.

    Biggest challenge– (apart from Sheffield Wednesday avoiding the drop....sorry Tim!) is making real reductions in campylobacter in chicken – this is a key priority for us in our new strategic plan as we need to prevent so many people getting ill unnecessarily.

    Most encouraging– your continued response to this blog.

    Biggest hope for 2010– (apart from Tottenham Hotspur going from strength to strength) is that we can encourage people to drop the dogma and engage in open debate informed by evidence.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the highs and lows of 2009 and what challenges might be facing us in 2010.

    I hope you all enjoy a period of feasting and merriment, unbounded (at least temporarily) by the usual strictures from my nutritional colleagues!


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  • 01/07/10--07:40: Joining up on science
  • For the new year, I've made a resolution not to comment on the proliferation of fad diets and detoxes surrounding us in the media (I think we can use our common sense on this). Instead I want to look forward to 2030 and the UK cross-government strategy for food research and innovation, which was launched on Tuesday by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.
     
    This strategy sets out how the Government plans to maximise the contribution of research and innovation to meeting its goals on food. A key element of this will be strengthening partnerships between funders, and this chimes really well with our science and evidence strategy, which has partnership as one of its key themes.

    Of course there are already good examples of where funders are coming together to share information and develop collaborative approaches, including the Microbiological Safety of Food Funders Group. But, I hope, the strategy will provide added impetus to developing new collaborative approaches, such as the multi-partner food security research programme and the coordinated programme on campylobacter research, both of which are referred to in the strategy. And we’ll be continuing to look for more opportunities to strengthen our collaborative work, so watch this space...


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  • 01/08/10--03:39: Peering at nano-foods
  • I welcome the report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee into nanotechnology, which was chaired by Lord Krebs, a former Chair of the Agency.  New and emerging technologies can bring about risks as well as benefits for consumers, so what we need is open debate, not dogma.  Our priority in the FSA is protecting consumer interests, so I fully support the need to develop a research capability in the UK so that we can assess the potential effects of nanomaterials on health; we're working with other research funding bodies to co-ordinate the necessary research.

    One of the recommendations in the report is that it would be useful to have a public register of nano-derived foods. I agree it would be useful to have this and we would be happy to coordinate it, but it will require openness and cooperation from the food industry and support from consumer groups to ensure that any register provides the information that consumers need. If you have any views you'd like to add to the debate, I'd be interested in hearing them.


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