Food Standards Agency: concerns over loss of scientific independence

In mid-May, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) considered a report on its scientific advisors and how science advice should be delivered in future. The General Advisory Committee on Science (GACS) gives the FSA advice on scientific issues and has a role in challenging it on its uses of science. The GACS was founded in 2007 and meets twice a year. In a more globalised and higher-tech food industry, this advice is key to the FSA. The FSA review looked at what its scientific advice committees were currently doing, how they should be structured in future, and whether efficiency could be improved.

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Stakeholders’ views on the FSA’s scientific advisors

This extensive review interviewed stakeholders, held workshops and collected evidence. Some of the stakeholders wanted advice that could be delivered more quickly and with more visibility; others wanted a wider pool of experts or suggested that while the scientific committees should continue assessing risk, they needed to communicate better on risk management.

It was also felt that there would be a benefit if chairs of committees were brought together and if GACS had a stronger focus on priority strategic areas. Some views were also expressed on the need for committee membership to be flexible to link to FSA policy areas. As a result of the review, the FSA wants to move to a different model of advice: a departmental expert committee.

Companies are always careful to stay up to date with these kinds of issues, as the purchase of used food processing machines can be a key step in investing in improved food safety during food manufacture. A vacuum conveyor from, for example may help to reduce the possibility of contamination when moving ingredients around the food manufacturing plant.

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Strong opposition from Professor Sir Colin Blakemore

Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, the chairman of GACS, was invited to the FSA’s board meeting to respond to the review findings. He stressed that the views he was representing were unanimous among the GACS members and passionately held. He felt that the departmental expert committee that the FSA wanted to introduce to replace the GACS committee was an in-house group that would be much less independent, objective and transparent than the current GACS set-up.

The professor gave a robust contribution outlining his views. You can watch the video of this board meeting at

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