Review of Official Control Laboratory System - Food Standards Agency Board to be asked to comment
In item 6 of a paper to go to a meeting of the FSA Board on 6th December Steve Wearne (Director of Policy & Science Group) notes that there has never been a formal external review of the UK official control laboratory system in its entirety and that there is no longer a clear demarcation between the current official control disciplines.
He states: “In the build-up to the UK exiting the EU there is an opportunity to review the current system (taking into consideration, for example, capacity, capability, scale and surge, independence, competence, quality) such that the UK has a more joined-up, less-segmented, efficient and sustainable official control laboratory network thereby enabling the FSA to be an excellent, accountable, modern regulator.” Options have for the review have already been discussed with Food Standards Scotland, Public Health England and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. No mention is made of any discussions with the owners of Public Analyst Laboratories who, uniquely within the official control laboratory network receive no central funding to maintain their competence, capacity or capability.
The Board are to be asked to comment on the relative priority and potential scope of the proposed review.
The Turner and Elliott Reviews are mentioned, but not the Timbury Review which focussed on Scotland or the Turner/Gorsuch Review on the Public Analyst Services in Northern Ireland. Copies of these reports are attached below.
Recommendations of the Turner Review included:
A logically derived system for establishing appropriate sampling rates,
If funding is to continue to be locally controlled, it should be linked with a logical and transparent process for the determination of realistic sampling rates,
The Food Standards Agency be given responsibility for the coordination of a national sampling programme.
At the time of the Turner Review there were 31 Public Analyst laboratories in the UK employing about 50 Public Analysts. Today there are 13 laboratories employing about 27 Public Analysts. The Staffordshire Laboratory is due to close its doors to new work before Christmas and to cease operations in the New Year.
A National Audit Office Report into Food safety and authenticity in the processed meat supply chain published over four years ago also goes unreferenced. It recommended that the Agency keep under review the adequacy of official control laboratory capacity and capability to ensure that it is sufficient to respond to a food incident. Since that report was published both capacity and capability have continued to decline.