Consultative Council Meeting Minutes - 26th September 2012

Members Present

Ms Veronica Campbell (Chair), [VC]
Mr Dermott Jewell, [DJ]
Mr Tim O’Brien, [TO’B]
Ms Maree Gallagher, [MG]
Ms Margaret Leahy, [ML]
Ms Breda Raggett, [BR]
Mr Martin Roper, [MR]
Ms Paula Mee, [PM]
Ms Sinead Finnegan, [SF]
Mr Cormac Healy, [CH]
Mr Ray Bowe, [RB]

In Attendance

Mr Raymond Ellard, [RE]
Ms Eileen Lippert, [EL]
Dr Wayne Anderson [WA]
Dr Lisa O’Connor, [LO’C]

Apologies for Absence

 Dr Susanne Boyd, [SB]

1. Agree Minutes of 10th May 2012

The minutes of the meeting of 10th May 2012 were approved subject to some minor editorial corrections.

2. Matters Arising

There were no matters arising that were not agenda items.

3. FSAI Update

There has been no further development on the appointment by the Minister of Health of additional members to the Food Safety Consultative Council (FSCC). This will not affect how the FSCC operates.

FSAI informed the meeting of a number of recent incidents of food poisonings which were investigated:

  • a recent outbreak of VTEC the cause of which is unknown. Five people were ill, with one person hospitalised.
  • An outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium U323 is under investigation. More than twenty cases have been identified, but the food involved is as yet unidentified. Two persons became quite ill following consumption of tuna fish contaminated with high level of histamine. Both recovered. Methanol poisoning in bootleg spirits in the Czech Republic has been responsible for the deaths of several people in that country.

A number of recent food incidents were also described:

Methanol poisoning from the consumption of illegal spirits caused more than 25 deaths in the Czech Republic and resulted in the prohibition of sales of liquor with an alcohol content of more than 20%.

Certain batches of bottled water were withdrawn from sale in Ireland due a problem with an off odour taint

Dr Bernard Hegarty, FSAI Director of Service Contracts gave an update on the upcoming European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) mission to Ireland in December which will assess and review overall the food controls in Ireland. He stated that the FVO has requested documentation in advance of the mission. Since the last such mission, the FVO has made some 212 recommendations in the course of many missions on specific food control topics. Most of these were addressed a number still require action which is in hand. Members asked whether there are areas of overlap between official control agencies. Dr Hegarty confirmed that all the relevant agencies/competent authorities liaise and cooperate very well. The importance of the FVO missions and the subsequent reports lay in the fact that they highlight how the EU views Ireland’s food controls.

Action: BH will provide a breakdown of the type of recommendations issued by FVO for circulation to the members.

4. Proposed New Legislation on Sprouting Seeds – Lisa O’Connor

RE provided the background to this topic and introduced Dr. Lisa O’Connor FSAI Chief Specialist of food science. The main points of her presentation included:

  • Information and background on the E.coli O104:H4 outbreak in Germany in May-July 2011;
  • Fatality and illness figures in Germany and France;
  • The cost of incorrectly blaming cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce;
  • Some of the problems encountered during the investigation;
  • Details of the foods implicated in the French outbreak;
  • The power of traceability;
  • The risk with sprouts;
  • The Commission’s report of lessons learnt and action plan;
  • Four proposed new regulations and detailed information about these;
  • Timelines.

A copy of the presentation was circulated to members at the meeting and several questions followed. Amongst these was the fact that the seeds in questions were from 2009 but they only appeared on the market in 2011. It was clarified that once seeds are kept dry they can last for a long time. It was also explained that not all seeds are produced just of human consumption and producers are not aware for what seeds will be used. The same seeds could be sent to garden centres etc for planting. It was confirmed that none of the seeds in the outbreak were imported into Ireland. There was some debate about the quality of water used in seed production and it was confirmed that potable water is required. It was noted that the production methods of sprouts amplifies the potential to cause microbial contamination. As a result of the outbreak, the EU introduced new regulations on the production of sprouted seeds. While these when applied will reduce the possible hazards, alone they cannot guarantee complete safety. The impact of the proposed new legislation on Irish producers was raised and it was confirmed that no cost benefit analysis has been carried out however; the EU considers that the costs involved will not be prohibitive.

5. Proposed Sugar Sweetened Drinks (SSD) Tax – Wayne Anderson

Dr Wayne Anderson. FSAI Director of Food Science and Standards was introduced to the Council He gave a presentation entitled: ‘Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax: Health Impact Assessment’. The main points of his presentation were:

  • Explanation of the Body Mass Index Chart for adults;
  • Obesity facts in Ireland;
  • Causes for excess weight gain;
  • Some drivers affecting energy balance;
  • Where should the focus be?
  • The request of the Minister for Health;
  • The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) Steering Committee;
  • The HIA literature review and the FSAI conclusions on SSD tax and purchasing behaviour;
  • FSAI conclusions on SSDs and weight gain;
  • Next steps.

A copy of the presentation was circulated at the meeting and WA clarified that he was not in a position to tell the members what the final decision on this matter is/will be. He explained that the Health Impact Assessment assumes a tax of 10% on sugar sweetened drinks and using the data from Slán, it is hoped that there will be 4000 fewer obese people, but there is no guarantee. The presentation sparked an interesting debate. Amongst the issues raised was why data from Slán was used rather than that of IUNA. Also suggested that pack sizes/plate sizes/glass size/portion sizes need to be looked at/addressed. There is also a need to limit the availability of soft drinks instead of taxing them. Members were also of the view that the tax would not necessarily impact the obesity problem. They suggested there is a need to investigate why people do/eat what they do. They further suggested that the need to address the issue of children and parent pester power. This also led to the fact that vending machines selling these soft drinks are often the only drinks available in most schools. Another problem raised was the amount of sugar contained in many cook-in sauces and the fact that diet plans and weight loss self help organisation tend to focus on fat and ignore sugar.

Many of the members were of the opinion that a sugar tax was more a symbolic action to address the obesity issue. They highlighted the fact that some of the countries that introduced a ‘fat tax’ have since rowed back on it. It is considered to be a fiscal tax rather than a fat tax.

Action: Members were asked to send any comments on the presentation to EL so that a note can be sent to SAGO.

6. Themes for Open Meetings

The background to the open meeting was explained and members were invited to suggest topics for the open meeting in January 2013. The following were suggested:

  • Sugar/hidden sugars;
  • Low calorie diets;
  • General need for vitamin D;
  • Diet pills – medicines or supplements;
  • Allergens
  • Calories on menus
  • Enforcements/prosecution of ethnic food restaurants;
  • Cost benefit analysis of food hygiene training;
  • Is the Government really encouraging you to eat well? This could incorporate calories on menus and sugar and fat and taxes

In order to progress the open meeting, volunteers were asked to form the Open Meeting Sub-Group. The following offered their services:
1. Paula Mee
2. Sinead Finnegan
3. Maree Gallagher
A meeting of this Sub-group will be arranged before the next meeting of the FSCC and relevant FSAI staff will be invited to attend. If it suits members better, this can be done by conference call.

7. AOB

As Martin Roper and Dermott Jewell were unable to attend the first meeting of the FSCC, they were invited to introduce themselves and present their backgrounds.

8. Correspondence

There was no correspondence

9. Date of the Next Meeting

The next meeting of the FSCC will take place in the FSAI on 20 November 2012 at 11:00 and the theme will be Scores on the Doors and the Rapid Alert System. Martin Roper and Susanne Boyd can present on the former and Raymond Ellard will present on the latter.

Last reviewed: 27/11/2012

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