ACMSF minutes: 28 September 2006

The 60th Meeting was held in Aviation House, London WC2B 6NH.

Present
Acting Chair:
Professor S O'Brien

Members:
Mr J Bassett
Dr D Brown
Mrs V Buller
Ms S Davies
Dr R Holliman
Professor T Humphrey
Professor P Hunter
Mr A Kyriakides
Ms E Lewis
Mr P McMullin
Dr S Millership
Mrs J Morris
Professor P Williams

Assessors
Mr P Gayford (Defra)
Dr S Neil (DARDNI)

Secretariat
Dr L Foster (Administrative Secretary)
Dr P Cook (Scientific Secretary)
Mr Ade Adeoye
Miss Sarah Butler

Others
Members of the public

1. Chair's introduction

1.1 The Chair welcomed ACMSF Members and members of the public to the 60th meeting of the Committee. She also welcomed Dr Corinne Vaughan (FSA) and Dr Gail Betts (Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association) who would be presenting agenda item 6, Dr David Atkins (FSA) who would be presenting agenda item 9, and Mr Steve Pugh (FSA) who would be presenting agenda item 10. In addition, she welcomed Mr Ade Adeoye (FSA) who had recently joined the Secretariat.

1.2 The Chair asked Members to identify any items for discussion under any other business at the end of the meeting. None were raised.

1.3 The Chair informed Members of one change to the agenda. Paper ACM/799 (storage of human breast milk) had been withdrawn from the agenda for this meeting.

2. Apologies for absence

2.1 Apologies for absence were received from Professor Mike Gasson, Dr Judith Hilton, Professor Laura Piddock and Mr Robert Rees.

3. Declarations of interests

3.1 The Chair reminded the Committee of the need to declare any conflicts of interests relating to items on the agenda. Mr Kyriakides (Sainsbury's) and Mr Bassett (Unilever plc) reported that, in connection with agenda item 6, their respective organisations had an interest in the FSA's proposals on reduction of fats and added sugars in foods.

Minutes of the 59th Meeting and Matters arising
4.1 Members approved ACM/MIN/59 as a correct record of the previous meeting, subject to a minor amendment to Annex 1. The Secretariat was asked to arrange for final minutes to be posted on the Committee's website.

Action: Secretariat

5. Matters arising

5.1 The Chair drew attention to the Secretariat information paper ACM/797 detailing matters arising from previous meetings. There were no matters arising identified for discussion by members of the Committee.

Fat and added sugar reduction on foods (ACM/798)
6.1 At the Chair's invitation, Dr Corinne Vaughan (FSA) introduced paper ACM/798. She explained that the Agency had commissioned a review of the microbiological safety implications of reductions of total fat, saturated fat and added sugar in some foods. The results of the review would be used to inform the development of the Agency's Strategy on saturated fats and energy..

6.2 This review, which had been carried out by Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association and a draft report of the review's findings was annexed to the paper. She explained that the views of the ACMSF were sought on:

  • The findings of the review in relation to the microbiological safety and/or stability implications associated with reductions of total and saturated fat and sugar in processed foods;
  • Whether the report provided sufficient evidence that there is scope for such reductions without adversely affecting the microbiological safety of these products;
  • Whether there were any other issues not highlighted in the report that required consideration.

6.3 At the Chair's invitation, Dr Gail Betts (Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association) presented a summary of the work carried out to review the microbiological safety and/or stability implications associated with reductions of total and saturated fat and sugar in processed foods. She summarised information on likely compositional changes in foods subject to reformulation and resulting effects on product safety and stability. She also outlined microbiological risks linked to reformulation of some product groups including those whose microbiological stability was influenced by sugar (jams), fat (sausages) and both fats and sugar (cakes). Lastly, she reviewed the use of predictive models to demonstrate the effect of changes to water activity, sucrose content and pH on microbial growth.

6.4 The Committee welcomed the review, and in discussing the microbiological impact on food safety from reduction of fat and added sugars in foods the Committee considered that:

  • Variation in the differences in behaviour of individual organisms needed to be accounted for in the review;
  • There were difficulties linked to adopting a broad brush approach to product reformulation. Care was needed when interpreting the findings of the review as microbiological impact as a result of reformulation and resulting changes to water activity would vary from product to product;
  • Particular consideration needed to be given to small and medium sized businesses and caterers and how they would reformulate products safely through application of appropriate controls. Members referred to similar comments raised on previous discussions on the microbiological impact of salt reduction in foods noting that provision of technical support needed to be considered for these organisations;
  • The review should include a search strategy for references used and explain why particular organisms were included;
  • Gaps in the report needed to be addressed, including information on novel sweeteners;
  • Risk/benefit analysis information also warranted consideration, including consideration of public health benefits such as reductions in obesity. Application of a quantitative risk assessment could be considered as part of future work to assess risks from foodborne disease.

Botulism in cattle (ACM/800)
7.1 At the Chair's invitation, Professor Williams (Chair, ad hoc Group on botulism in cattle) presented paper ACM/800. He reminded Members that at the December 2005 meeting the Committee agreed to publish its draft report on botulism in cattle for public consultation. The Committee consulted on the report in the first half of 2006. In September, the ad hoc Group met to consider the consultation responses and undertook work to revise the report in light of the comments received. Comments received were supportive of the scientific review and the recommendations in the report. The report concluded that there was a low risk of transmission of botulism from cattle and that there was no requirement to restrict movement of meat and milk from healthy animals. However, in the event of the emergence of new toxin types in cattle, surveillance should be carried out. He added that responses highlighting issues of scientific accuracy in the report were addressed at length. Lastly, he thanked the members of the ad hoc group and the Secretariat for their contributions and hard work to produce the report in its final form.

7.2 Members agreed that paragraph 8.10 of the report should be more strongly worded to recommend that the FSA works closely with the poultry industry to ensure good practice in litter management and disposal. The relationship between risk assessment and risk management issues falling within the scope of the report was discussed. The Chair clarified that the Committee might make suggestions for alternative risk management strategies but that any comments alluding to risk management in the report were for the FSA to decide if and how to implement.

7.3 The Chair thanked Professor Williams for his update. Summing up, she confirmed that the Committee approved the revised report and that the report should be submitted to the FSA Chair for final publication in early 2007. In addition the Committee agreed to publish the summary of consultation responses on the FSA web site.

Action: Secretariat

Scientific Governance (ACM/801); Openness; Induction and appraisal
8.1 At the Chair's invitation Dr David Atkins introduced paper ACM/801. He explained that an independent review of the FSA (by The Rt Hon Baroness Dean) carried out in 2005 recommended that the Agency's policy for basing decisions on scientific evidence should be maintained and developed further. The Agency had already been examining its approach to scientific governance in consultation with Advisory Committee Chairs. Part of this work had involved development of a science check list for use by Agency staff and a Best Practice Agreement for the Scientific Advisory Committees to meet the Board's expectations about how scientific evidence is gathered analysed and presented. Lastly Dr Atkins confirmed that the Best Practice Agreement was intended for use in conjunction with the Code of Practice for Advisory Committees.

8.2 The Committee welcomed the document and identified the following points for consideration:

  • Further clarification was needed on the roles of Scientific Advisory Committees with regard to separation of risk assessment and risk management issues (ACM/801, paragraph 21 refers). Members queried whether the roles of such Committees included provision of advice on risk management.
  • Independence of Committees. The wording 'wherever possible' and 'kept to a minimum' (ACM/801, paragraphs 26 and 27 refer) needed defining in terms of the degree of openness expected. Members noted that it was important to document when and why information was withheld. Members also agreed that it was important for the Committee to remain as transparent as possible.
  • Declaration of interests needed to be considered within paragraph 4 of the document.
  • Paragraph 18 required clarification. Members noted that consideration of benefits might not fall within the remit of the Committee.
  • Avoid use of Latin phrases.

8.3 The Chair thanked Dr Atkins for his presentation. Summing up she confirmed that the Committee supported the Best Practice Agreement.

9. Openness

9.1 Dr Foster outlined the Committee's current approach to openness noting that since 2003 the Committee had held all its quarterly meetings in public. She sought Members' views on the success of this approach to date.

9.2 Members exchanged a wide range of views. Concerns were expressed that the public session at the end of each meeting was used as a forum for discussion of risk management issues as questions were often directed at the FSA and not the ACMSF. Openness and transparency was viewed as desirable, although it was recognised that this approach sometimes inhibited discussion. The current approach to openness was viewed as acceptable and Members were keen to remain as open as possible.

9.3 Members discussed holding ad hoc and Working Group meetings in open session. Whilst desirable, it was recognised that this approach might constrain the type of scientific evidence currently submitted to these Groups, particularly where information of a commercially sensitive nature or unpublished research was relevant to a particular issue. It was suggested that this type of information could be considered in a separate closed session.

9.4 Summing up, the Chair noted that the Committee had expressed a wide range of views on this subject and that the balance was towards openness. She requested that the Chair and Secretariat prepare a paper on this issue for discussion at a future meeting.

Action: Secretariat

10. Induction and appraisal

10.1 Dr Foster briefed the Committee on the current induction and appraisal arrangements for Members. She explained that information on the role and requirements of Committee members was issued to applicants as part of the recruitment process. Information about the ACMSF and its procedures was also provided to new members prior to attendance at meetings. Media training was also made available to the ACMSF Chair as the key spokesperson for the Committee. She added that as Members were appointed on the basis of their proven expertise and previous Committee experience, these arrangements were conducted on an informal basis, and were in line with those used by other FSA Committees.

10.2 Dr Foster summarised the informal appraisal process for the ACMSF. She explained that the Chair assessed the overall performance of Members in terms of their contribution at meetings and sub-groups, outside meetings and attendance. On the basis of these views Members were re-appointed at staggered intervals.

10.3 Several new Members commented that they welcomed the information that they had received on joining the Committee, and that it fully met their needs. Members confirmed that they were content with the current induction and appraisal arrangements.

Horizon scanning (ACM/802)
11.1 At the Chair's invitation Dr Foster introduced paper ACM/802 which outlined Members' short-listed priorities for horizon scanning topics including any likely emerging microbiological risks. These were:

Food safety/processing ' impact of fresher products and milder processing conditions; novel processing techniques, bacterial stress responses and food safety; temperature control;

Agriculture/food production ' changes in agriculture and food animal production, including growth promoters in poultry; use of terminal decontaminants; prevention of bacterial contamination and colonisation;

Vulnerable groups ' listeriosis in the elderly population and children under 6 months (not weaned);

Imported foods ' antibiotic resistance, ESBLs;

Biocides ' review of kitchen and cleaning products containing biocides and whether they promote antibiotic resistance in bacteria relevant to human health;

Noroviruses ' including pigs and calves as potential reservoir of noro and sapoviruses and the impact on public health;

Schools ' implications of the new standards for school meals on food safety; loss of culinary skills in relation to the National Curriculum on food technology.

11.2 She sought Members' views on which of these topics warranted further consideration by the ACMSF and the mechanism by which such work could be carried out.

11.3 In the ensuing discussion Members considered that:

  • Some of the prioritised areas focussed on research topics rather than development of advice. Members were reminded that imported foods issues had recently been considered by the Committee;
  • Vulnerable Groups ' in view of the recent trend in listeriosis in older people, this topic warranted further examination. Members suggested a presentation on changes in food habits of the over 60 years age group and clarification of what is meant by 'vulnerable'. Other suggestions included setting up an ad hoc group to explore issues linked to vulnerable groups;
  • Schools ' Members recognised that although changes in nutritional practices in schools were an important issue, there was already a large amount of work in progress in this area. Some of the issues raised also fell outside the remit of the Committee. Further clarification was needed on the questions posed for consideration;
  • Agriculture/food production ' a very broad and complex area. Members noted that there were dramatic differences in regional farming practices which might impact microbiologically on food safety.
  • Probiotics 'Members recognised that this was a growing market. However this issue was more appropriate for consideration by SACN.
  • Noroviruses 'The Committee published a review of noroviruses in 1998. However Members agreed that it would be worthwhile revisiting this report.

11.4 Summing up, the Chair proposed that the Committee focussed its attention on vulnerable groups. She added that consideration could be given to agricultural and farm practices at a later date. She requested further clarification on the key issues for consideration relating to schools. Lastly she requested that the Secretariat work with the Chair to set up an ad hoc group to consider vulnerable groups.
Action: Secretariat

Surveillance
12.1 At the Chair's invitation, Mr Stephen Pugh (FSA) introduced paper ACM/803 which updated Members on the Agency's survey sampling programmes and the work of the Surveillance Working Group. He summarised the work of current FSA surveys on eggs, raw red meat and Listeria spp in ready to eat hot and cold smoked fish. He also outlined plans for future surveillance on Campylobacter and Salmonella in raw chicken and Listeria spp in cooked sliced meats and pates. Lastly he informed Members that the Surveillance Working Group had considered the role of statisticians in survey development, retail market share and consistency between laboratories. The protocol for the 2007 chicken survey and preliminary results for the non-UK eggs survey had also been discussed.

12.2 Members discussed the role of broader surveillance in order to provide assurance that food controls were in place. However, it was recognised that the Agency was not the only body, which carried out surveillance and Members noted that HPA undertook shopping basket and regionally based surveys. HPA also provided surveillance data to the Epidemiology and Foodborne Infections Group, which reported to the ACMSF every six months.

12.3 Members discussed linking up agricultural production surveys with food surveillance.
Mr Gayford commented that results from a Defra survey of layer flocks, which formed part of a wider EU survey, mirrored results in a survey of non-UK eggs.

12.4 Members were informed that all FSA surveillance results were logged onto a national surveillance database for Local Authorities. The Secretariat agreed to check whether the Committee had previously received a presentation on this surveillance database.

Action: Secretariat

12.5 The Chair thanked Mr Pugh for his update.

Committee sub-groups
13.1 The Chair informed Members that there were two items to report other than those already covered in the agenda:

Salmonella Contact Group

13.2 The Chair informed Members that a small meeting of some ACMSF members was convened at short notice in June to review risk assessment information relating to a Salmonella contamination of chocolate incident. Following the meeting the Group published its conclusions on the FSA website. These conclusions were also circulated to Members for information.

Newly-emerging pathogens

13.3 At the Chair's invitation, Professor Hunter reported that there had been limited activity via the message board as no major threats to the food supply had been identified over the period in question.

Dates of future meetings (ACM/804)
14.1 The Chairman brought to Members' attention paper ACM/804 which listed the dates for meetings scheduled for 2006 and 2007. She reminded members that all meetings were open to members of the public.

15. Any other business

15.1 Professor Humphrey asked whether there had been any further developments relating to discussions regarding the impact of HPA funding cuts on timeliness and quality of surveillance data. Dr Foster replied that an information paper on this issue would be provided to the Board later in the year.

16. Public questions and answers

16.1 The Chairman invited the members of the public present to ask any questions they might have on the work of the Committee, or to make any observations.

16.2 Mr Andrew Curtis (FDF) referred to the agenda item on fat and added sugar reduction in foods. He raised concerns regarding the production of 3 MCPD from glycerol in foods subjected to thermal processing; noting that reformulation of products might result in an increase of glycerol use in these foods. He queried whether the review would also be considered by other Advisory Committees. Dr Vaughan confirmed that once the work was completed it could be referred to COT for consideration.

16.3 Ms Kate Trollope ('EU Food Law' journal) referred to previous issues raised by HUSH regarding the work of the ad hoc Group on the safe cooking of burgers noting that an ex-ACMSF Member who acted as an independent consultant for a fast food company provided evidence to the group. The Chair replied that the ad hoc groups reported progress to the main Committee meetings, which were open to the public.

16.4 Mr Rick Pendrous ('Food Manufacture' magazine) welcomed the fact that the Agency and the ACMSF held meetings in open session. The Chair reiterated that the ad hoc groups reported progress to the main Committee meetings, which were open to the public. This provided an opportunity for the public to question or comment on any part of the Committee's business. She added that the Committee also consulted publicly on reports arising from the work of its sub-Groups.

16.5 Ms Caroline Tankard (Waitrose) referred to the agenda item on fat and added sugar reduction in foods. She commented on the laxative effects of polyols and also added that other preservatives required consideration as part of the review.

17. There being no further business, the Chairman thanked Members and members of the public for attending and closed the meeting.