Mike King introduced the event and set the ground rules for the day
Hilary Sutcliffe gave a brief introduction on how the event came about and what we hoped to achieve.
Steffen Foss Hansen — Technical University of Denmark
Steffen began by exploring the story of Food Irradiation in Europe from the early 1960’s based on his contribution to the recent EEA publication Late Lessons from Early Warnings. His study found that Food Irradiation (FI) was one of the few instances of ‘false alarms’, meaning where regulatory precaution has subsequently found to be unnecessary. During the 1980s and 1990s multiple scientific committees throughout the world concluded that the technology was safe, but despite that, concerns about some aspects of safety and potential negative public perceptions continued to shape the uptake of the technology, particularly in the EC and US. It was believed that in China its use was widespread. His presentation considers the main HSE concerns and illustrates the responses of the different EU and US technical committees.
David Fell — Brook Lyndhurst
David then explored how public perceptions are shaped in his presentation of the FSA Public Attitudes to Emerging Technologies study undertaken by Brook Lyndhurst. He explained how it is easy to castigate the public for ignorance, but we are all ignorant in different spheres for a variety of good reasons and there is no domain of our lives in which we have enough information to make informed decisions. We naturally have to take shortcuts. These shortcuts may mean relying on information from trusted groups, particularly friends and family and those groups who are perceived as without a vested interest. Perceptions about FI were shaped by concerns about its association with nuclear power, a distrust of companies, governments and the science community and a lack of clarity about benefits.
David did not present to slides. A copy of the FSA report Public Attitudes to Emerging Technologies is available here
Andrew Parry — WRAP (an independent organisation focused on waste recycling and prevention)
Around half of all food waste in the UK comes from households, and the majority could have been avoided. Most of this food is perishable, and £6.7 billion worth is thrown away as a result of it ‘not being used in time’. This may be due to food going past the date on the pack, or being judged to have ‘gone off’.
WRAP research has shown that after price, freshness and how long food lasts for in the home are the most important considerations for consumers. Many factors have the potential to influence this, for example where food is stored, and whether or not it is kept in its packaging. WRAP and its partners, through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign provide advice and support to consumers to help ensure food is kept at its best, and not wasted.
The food industry can also help through giving consumers longer product life, and a few days extra has the potential to reduce food waste by up to 80% (see http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/milk-model-simulating-food-waste-home-0). WRAP works with the food industry, through the Courtauld Commitment, to develop solutions that help reduce food waste across the supply chain, through innovative processing, packaging, labelling, and there are many good examples of where additional life has been given. However, there is the potential to deliver greater benefits, across the supply chain and in the home, through increasing product life (without impacting on quality or safety), and WRAP is undertaking new research to help identify these opportunities. It is important to understand both the risks and benefits of specific approaches (consumer, commercial, environmental etc) and how they compare (e.g. packaging vs processing solutions)
Christopher Thomas — Food Standards Agency
Chris presented the FSA Food ‘farm to fork’ Food Safety Strategy and some of the concerns about food borne illness in the UK. Over 100 people die each year from Campylobacter and Listeria and the potential annual financial burden to the UK of the two may approach £750k.
The majority of food borne illness is preventable and FI may be considered to be one of only a limited number of useful technologies in this context and the FSA would support its use as part of its overall strategy. The following foods can be irradiated in the UK — potatoes, vegetables, cereals, fruit, fish and shellfish, poultry, herbs and spices.
Chris cited a recent EFSA Scientific Opinion from April 2011 in relation to Campylobacter in broiler meat production which stated that “Clearly, irradiation is the most effective decontamination treatment, reducing the risk by virtually 100%...”
Hilary Sutcliffe, Director, MATTER
Hilary then led the discussion with an overview of Responsible Innovation and observations on FI from her work on the paper. This was the stimulus for the discussion.