Joint Meeting of Food Safety Consultative Council and FSAI Scientific Committee - 3 March 2015

 Joint Meeting of the Food Safety Consultative Council and the FSAI’s Scientific Committee on 3 March 2015 at 09:30 in the FSAI Board Room

FSCC Members Present

Ms Veronica Campbell (Chair), [VC]
Mr Cormac Healy [CH]
Ms Breda Raggett, [BR]
Mr Pat Daly [PD]
Mr Tim O’Brien (TO’B)
Mr Dermott Jewell (DJ)
Mr Donal Maguire (DM)
Ms Margaret Leahy [ML]
Ms Maree Gallagher [MG]
Ms Sinead Finnegan [SF]

Scientific Committee Members Present

Prof. Albert Flynn
Ms Ita Saul
Prof. Brian McKenna
Prof. Martin Cormican


Mr Ray Bowe [RB]
Mr Martin Roper [MR]
Ms Paula Mee [PM]
Ms Una Fitzgibbon [UF]
Dr Susanne Boyd [SB]
Mr Brendan Kehoe [BK]
Dr Michael O’Keeffe
Mr Raymond Ellard

In Attendance

Dr Wayne Anderson
Ms Dorothy Guina Dornan
Dr Pamela Byrne
Ms Eileen Lippert



1. Agree Agenda

Prior to agreeing the agenda, there was a tour de table and everyone introduced themselves. Dr Pamela Byrne, the FSAI’s new CEO was also welcomed.

The agenda was agreed without amendments.

2. Risk Assessment in the FSAI – Wayne Anderson

The first presentation of the day:

  • Explained the reason for science in food safety
  • Explained the risk analysis paradigm
  • Outlined the internal science resource in the FSAI
  • Outlined he external science resource (Scientific Committee)
  • Described the Scientific Committee structure
  • Summarised the service contract resource – food laboratories
  • Elaborated on monitoring and surveillance of food for safety
  • Highlighted food safety research carried out in Ireland
  • Clarified the nature of scientific advice in FSAI
  • Gave examples of qualitative risk assessment by the Scientific Committee
  • Gave examples of qualitative risk assessment by ad hoc expert Committees
  • Gave an example of quantitative exposure tools
  • Gave an example of exposure modelling
  • Gave examples of quantitative exposure
  • FSAI and its relationship with EFSA
  • Showed where FSAI fits in the EFSA organisational structure
  • The role of EFSA in the FSAI

Action: EL will circulate this presentation to the members. The presentation was followed questions which WA addressed. Some of the questions posed were:

  • FSAI and research funding?
  • The role of industry and the FSAI?
  • How research topics/issues are decided for the Scientific Committee?
  • Is FSAI work plan influenced by crises?
  • How does the Scientific Committee sit beside EFSA?
  • Any gaps in knowledge or emerging risk that could occur due to budget restraints?
  • FSAI’s relationship with other bodies?
  • Does the Scientific Committee participate in risk assessment?
  • Are publications updated and reviewed regularly?

3. Role of the FSCC – Veronica Campbell

VC explained that there are 16 members of the current Council 12 nominated by the FSAI and four by the Minister who still has eight outstanding nominations to make. The Council was established in 2001 and serves as an independent voice, consulting widely and providing advice to the FSAI Board. It was clarified that membership of the FSCC was voluntary and was not a paid position. It meets four to five times per year and holds one public/open meeting every year as set out in the legislation. She spoke about some of the topics which have been discussed at the Open Meetings and explained how these topics were decided upon. The floor was opened up to comments and questions and a sample of these included:

  • Are the outputs of the Scientific Committee ever discussed by the FSCC?
  • Ethnic food business and enforcement orders is an issue that is of interest to both the Board and the FSCC
  • How does the FSCC consult with its peers?
  • How does the FSCC disseminate information?

Agreed: FSCC will consider discussing some of the outputs of the Scientific Committee. Discussing the report from the Official Food Controls Review Steering Group could be a logical step towards this.

4. Role of the Scientific Committee – Albert Flynn

AF explained that FSAI’s system for obtaining external, independent advice is similar to that in other countries. He went on to explain why the FSAI was established and that the Scientific Committee was established in order to restore consumer confidence after the BSE crisis. The FSAI system is a model that many countries wish to adopt and he explained that the Scientific Committee must provide advice (as laid down by legislation) on food safety; nutrition and food, and the food inspection service. The advice of the Committee is intended to guide the work of the Authority on a daily basis but does not get involved in managing incidents or crises. It also tries to avoid topics that are well studied by other authorities/bodies. The Committee will look at issues that have been looked at by other authorities/bodies and identify gaps that are relevant to Ireland. Topics are generally agreed by both the Committee and the FSAI executive and then the main work is carried out by the relevant Sub-committees, who in turn must send the work to be approved by the Scientific Committee before it goes to the FSAI. Members of the Scientific Committee and its Sub-committees work on a voluntary basis and the Chair of the Scientific Committee must be on the FSAI Board, thus ensuring information flow. WA added that the FSAI is precluded from taking action on an issue until the Committee has issued its advice and this led to some discussion.

5. The Role and Work of the Biological Safety Sub-committee – Martin Cormican

Prof. Cormican chairs this Sub-committee and the main body of work being carried out is on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the food chain. He explained that AMR is a growing problem and that it limits the ability to treat infections in humans and animals. The key drivers are the nature of bacteria and the principle of evolution and the quantity and the way in which we use antibiotic. He also elaborated on the ways in which we help antibiotic resistant bacteria to spread from place to place. In order to do this a working group, also chaired by Martin Cormican, will prepare a report to review existing knowledge on potential transmission of AMR via the food chain with particular reference to Ireland and its food production and food handling practices and to advise on such measures as may be appropriate to reduce transmission.

Action: EL will circulate the presentation to the members.

There was much discussion about this topic. The collaboration of vets and doctors on this matter was commented upon. The need for improved communication to the public was stressed - that when a doctor does not prescribe an antibiotic to a patient when their issue is viral, they are doing them a favour as by (a) saving them money (b) the antibiotic will not do you any good (c) an antibiotic might cause you harm. It was queried if the human aspect of AMR e.g. hand-washing is included in the scope and it was confirmed that it is put into context at the beginning of the report. PB referred to a recently established inter-departmental group to tackle AMR and that they were meeting the next day. It was also confirmed when questioned that FSAI and MC have made submissions to the WHO on the issue.

6. The Role and Work of the Public Health Nutrition Sub-committee – Ita Saul

Ita Saul who chairs this Sub-committee explained that one of the aims of the PHN Sub-committee is to protect consumers in Ireland from adverse effects of very high dose vitamin and mineral supplements. In the absence of EU legislative rules on Maximum Upper Safe levels of vitamins and minerals added to foods and presented in food supplements national rules apply. In Ireland there are rules for seven vitamins in the medicines legislation. Input of the Scientific Committee is required to ensure these are appropriate for food. A Working Group (WG) was set up to prepare a report and while the Sub-committee has only met once, the WG has met six times, and a lot of work has been done electronically. Work on the report was stalled due to the resignation of the nutritionist leading on the report, however a new Fellow was recruited before Christmas and work is back on track. A joint meeting of the Sub-committee and the WG is planned for the end of March in order to finalise the report and then discussions will take place about the launch of the report.

Also on the agenda for the Sub-committee if there is time before its term is up, though if not completed will be carried through to the next Sub-committee:

2. Iron and vitamin A supplements
Background: Work on recommendations for pregnancy (infant feeding report 2011) identified two issues that warrant further investigation involving experts in the area

3. Vitamin D supplementation:
Background: Revision of healthy eating guidelines work identified a problem in that dietary insufficiency of vitamin D is widespread and affects all age and gender groups in Ireland. A daily vitamin D supplement is recommended for all population age and gender groups.

Ita also spoke and highlighted some of the reports issued by the Sub-committee and how some of these have helped to shape national policies. Vitamin D was discussed for a while and also debated was the impact the report on high dose vitamins and minerals would have.

7. The Role and Work of the Official Food Control Review Steering Group – Brian McKenna

Prof. McKenna elaborated that the role of this Steering Group (SG) of which he is Chair, is to carry out a detailed review of the efficacy of official food controls, in particular, how resources are aligned to risks in the food chain. The report will review the organisation, quality and operation of the official control system in Ireland, and the allocation of staff and other resources. It will also;

  1. Advise FSAI on the strengths and weaknesses of the current inspection system;
  2. Identify any potential changes to improve its control of risks;
  3. Examine the oversight and accountability arrangements within and between FSAI and the Official Agencies and identify opportunities for improvement;
  4. Review how best regulatory practice and regulatory assessment might be applied in FSAI and the official agencies;
  5. Using the data on official controls activities, advise on whether they are suitable for monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of the food inspection system and make recommendations for improvements.

He outlined some of the issues facing the official control system and noted that there are three phases to the project.

  1. A literature review/setting the scene
  2. Measuring efficacy/ questionnaires both agency and industry
  3. Reporting on the findings and establishing a future system
Action: EL will circulate the presentation to the members.

Questions and comments were invited after the presentation and members were informed that the Steering Group will produce the report with key performance indicators and all the agencies will have an opportunity to comment to encourage buy-in and acceptance. The area of data sharing is an area that needs much work and/or legislation as some agencies are very proprietorial about what is the property of the public service. Another area to look at is the impact of staff losses – i.e. to lose one staff member from a team of 100 is not as major a deal as losing one from a team of three

8. The Role and Work of the Chemical Safety Sub-committee – Wayne Anderson

WA gave this update on behalf of Michael O’Keeffe, Chair of the Sub-committee who was unable to attend due to commitments in EFSA.

Fluoride in Food and Drink – annex to the Total Diet Survey 

A Request for Advice was received from the Scientific Committee, FSAI by the Chemical Safety Sub-committee on “Estimated exposure of adults and children in Ireland to fluoride from dietary sources and associated health impact” in September 2013.

Sub-groups to develop reports on Analytical Methods and on Study Design were established and reported by November 2013. A further sub-group on Exposure/Risk Assessment will be established in mid-2015 to complete the study.

Extensive negotiations and evaluations of proposals were undertaken during 2014 to identify suitable laboratories to undertake the sample preparation and fluoride analysis activities. A preliminary evaluation of the testing laboratory’s competence was undertaken towards the end of 2014 and this activity is nearing completion. Testing of the samples of food and drink are expected to begin shortly and the results data to be provided to FSAI by mid-2015.

Scientific Reports (in preparation)

  • Review of Marine Biotoxins – to cover lipophilic, hydrophilic and novel marine biotoxins which are of major importance to the shellfish industry and to consumer safety 
  • Metals of Toxicological Importance in the Irish Diet – to cover aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The estimated exposure data have recently been included in this report and the draft report will be subject to final revision over the coming months. 


  • Bisphenol A (new factsheet) – Bisphenol A is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic food contact materials 
  • Residues of Animal Remedies in Food (revision of previous publication, May 2009) 
  • Natural Plant Toxins (new factsheet) – pyrrolizidine and tropane alkaloids, microcystin, aristolochic acid, nitrates, opiates, etc. in plant foods 

Queries for Advice – recent examples

  • The views of the Chemical Safety Sub-Committee were requested by Cork County Council in December 2014 on their project: Animal health surveillance of dairy herds in the vicinity of a large chemical industrial complex. Views provided in January 2015.
  • Information was provided in February 2015 for a food industry query on suitable screening methods for antibiotic testing in pigmeat. 

Action: EL will circulate the update to the members for information.

Agreed: The Chair thanked everyone for the enlightening information sharing and recommended that the FSCC and Scientific Committee meet at the beginning of the next Council’s term of office as the discussions could prove useful in choosing topics for discussion.

9. AOB & Correspondence

There was no other business or correspondence. The Chair welcomed Dr Byrne to her new role in the FSAI and thanked her for joining the meeting. The Scientific members were also thanked for attending.

10. Next meeting

The next meeting will take place in April – EL will send a doodle poll to ascertain the most suitable date.

Last reviewed: 9/6/2015

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