The foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001 witnessed the slaughter of millions of animals and horrific images of burning pyres of dead livestock across the British countryside that will be etched on the memories of many for decades to come. Official figures put the cost of the outbreak at over £8 billion. The economic, environmental, social and human cost was, however, much higher and far in excess of what it ought to have been. The scale of the outbreak was due largely due to the fact that it was one of the most poorly managed. The ban on swill-feeding pigs was one among many hasty, ill-considered actions. We live with the legacy of the ban on swill-feeding today, at a time when the imperative is to eliminate food waste and reduce food miles to combat climate change. The rationale which underpinned the ban must be brought into question.
The Scottish Government is calling for UK flour to be fortified with synthetic folic acid in order to reduce birth defects, especially neural tube conditions such as spina bifida. The UK government is still considering its position after positive recommendations from its advisors, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). No-one can argue against the desirability of improving the diet and health of women before and during pregnancy, nor dismiss the Scottish government’s concern that low folate status affects deprived communities most severely. Putting synthetic folic acid in flour is an attractively simple solution, but it would be a big mistake. Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters explains why the fortification of flour with folic acid would be a big mistake.
Comparisons can be fraught with difficulty, but all food carries some degree of risk and all risks are relative. Supermarket chicken and raw drinking milk are two foods in the news headlines recently, how do they compare?
The British Poultry Council estimates that in 2013 about 870 million chickens were bred, hatched, reared, and slaughtered in the UK and the equivalent of another 400 million birds were imported, mainly from Europe. A total of 1,270 million. There are no official figures for raw milk sales, but best estimates suggest that around 1.2 million litres or just over 2.1 million pints of raw drinking milk are presently consumed in the UK every year.
This post is an updated version of ‘ The FSA and so-called ‘risky’ foods’ which was published on 2 November 2014. Since then the Board of the FSA has met twice to consider the ‘risky’ foods framework and, more recently, burgers served rare.
A seemingly innocuous discussion paper was presented to the Board of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) early last November. ‘Our Approach to “Risky” Foods’ set out a significant new approach to the management of so-called ‘risky’ foods.
The FSA’s apparent change of heart on raw drinking milk over the summer earlier this year seemed like a breeze of fresh air, a more rational and reasonable approach to the management of food safety risks looked to be in the making. It now seems that a return to historical paranoia is the order of the day.
On 5 November 2014, this coming Wednesday, the Board of the FSA meets and will discuss ‘Our Approach to ‘Risky’ Foods’, a report prepared by Steve Wearne, the FSA’s Director of Policy. In the report ‘risky’ foods are “those foods that pose, or are perceived to pose, risks that are greater than those posed by the majority of foods that are not subject to specific controls.” Where the authority for defining a group of foods in such subjective terms comes from is unclear, but it seems the FSA is again set on demonising traditional foods which it perceives pose a greater level of risk.
It all rather depends on the country in which you live whether artisan cheese is in the ascendancy or under threat. Happily, in the UK the former is clearly the case, but the picture elsewhere looks mixed at best.
Three contrasting news stories have appeared over recent weeks which consider the future of small scale raw milk cheese production in the US, France and the UK and raise important questions.
The pasteurisation of all milk cannot be justified and raw milk vending machines have a place – say the Food Standards Agency.
The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) consultation undertaken as a part of its review of the controls governing the sale of raw drinking milk and cream closed on 30 April. True to its word, the FSA published the outcome of this consultation last Friday. Steve Wearne, the FSA’s Director of Food Safety, summarises the outcome in a report for consideration by the Board of the FSA later this month. A full response to the comments submitted is expected to be published before 30 July.
The responses – all 536 – were overwhelmingly in support of greater access to raw drinking milk with just four respondents calling for the pasteurisation of all milk. What has the FSA made of them all? Due credit to the FSA for what is, on the whole, good news.
The publication of the domestic regulations and guidance on the implementation of the food information to consumers Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 (the FIC Regulation) was expected much earlier this year. The general labelling requirements under the FIC Regulation will take effect on 13 December this year and food businesses are understandably anxious in the absence of certainty and clarity surrounding key aspects of the implementation of these provisions. Earlier this month, no doubt in recognition of the level of anxiety shown, Defra circulated a draft version of the guidance. The draft has not, however, been published or made available on the Defra web site and it adds some 16 pages to the guidance published in November 2012.