Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Too Few Food Analysts Spark Fears for Safety; Top Scientist Predicts Public Health Crisis

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Too Few Food Analysts Spark Fears for Safety; Top Scientist Predicts Public Health Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tony Henderson and Paul James

A PUBLIC health crisis was predicted last night after a leading North scientist warned there weren't enough experts to monitor contaminated food.

Alan Richards, Durham County Council's head of scientific services, who is president of the Association of Public Analysts (APA), said membership of the group and the number of food testing laboratories had both halved.

He said the drop in analysts, which test food during food poisoning outbreaks and routinely monitor the food supply for contaminated and even counterfeit products, contrasted starkly with Government pledges on nutrition and food labelling.

The Food Standards Agency has now agreed to meet the APA, but last night consumer experts said they feared the industry had already reached "breaking point".

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said the food industry's major producers could be trusted to supply food that was safe, but Berwick MP Alan Beith said the industry could not be allowed to regulate itself.

And Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, said it would be a "disaster" if the analysts were allowed to fade out of existence.

Mr Richards said the number of testing labs had almost halved in the past 50 years to 17 in England, with two in the North-East, in Durham and Newcastle. In the past 14 years he said the number of qualified public analysts had fallen from 80 to 40.

He said: "The Government has nutrition and food labelling high on the political agenda, but I've been very concerned for a number of years about the reduction in numbers of public analyst laboratories which carry out regular checks. The number has almost halved in the last 50 years.

"Now I am more worried about the reducing numbers of qualified public analysts to carry out the work. Public analysts hold a unique combination of qualifications in the analysis of food, and the law relating to food," said Mr Richards. …

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