Friday, 26 November 2010

The ACNFP is Unbiased – Hypothetically Speaking

Updated on 11 November 2010 regarding the ACNFP Meeting and on  1 December 2010 with new concluding paragraph

The title to this article is a take-off on the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) news flash on 25 November 2010 following the Open Committee Meeting in the morning at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in London. The news was that Cloned Meat Is Safe – Hypothetically Speaking. I was at the Workshop in the afternoon and raised the point that cloned animals and their progeny do not fall under the current Novel Foods regulation as stated on the Europa website, but this was waved off as a difference of opinion! (For more information, please see my posts with links: FSA Makes Law on Cloned Animals, Beware of Cloned Animals and Letter to my MP regarding Cloned Animals.)

On 30 November 2010, I received an email from the ACNFP clarifying that the hypothetical application mentioned in the Workshop was discussed in the Open Committee Meeting which I am told was attended by Andrew Wadge, the FSA Chief Scientist, as well as, a number of public observers.  I was previously unaware of the morning Meeting even though I was signed up for the Workshop as it was not well publicised.

Later in the day on 30 November 2010 in a separate email from the ACNFP, I was advised that the papers for the morning Meeting are available on the ACNFP website: ACNFP Agenda and Papers: 25 November 2010. If I had known this beforehand, I would have read them before the Workshop and been better prepared.  At any rate, I invite the reader to refer to them if interested.

The ACNFP seems to have time on its hands in order to be able to consider a hypothetical application along with its usual workload. Since the government is keen to make cutbacks, I would suggest that the FSA and its committees be reconsidered for further savings.  But it also seems that the government is keen to explore this market and no such cutbacks will be forthcoming.

With exercises such as this hypothetical application assessment, the moratorium on cloned animals also seems to be hypothetical because if a moratorium was in the works, the FSA would not be disseminating this sort of information.   I expressed my concerns in a poem called Cloning Craze.

But back to the Workshop, the cloning issue was saved for the last just before the open question time. The Workshop had a good start though. A few speakers explained the work carried out by the ACNFP, and it was all interesting. However, one comment I noted was that many consumers are perceived as mixed up, basically uninformed buffoons that are unable to departmentalise information and come to right-minded opinions about science and technology in the food industry. But of course, it is the scientists, politicians and big business people that are the ones prone to fuzzy logic, not the average consumers who tend to be a tad less high tech.

In attendance were 33 business people, 7 from universities, 3 unaffiliated (including me), two from other government departments and one other. The business people included researchers, various health services representatives, and employees from Pfizer and the British Soft Drinks Association. This was evidence in action of the audience the ACNFP must cater to - business people wanting to use novel food and novel food ingredients in their products.

After the presentations, we split up into three groups for round table discussions:

Group A – The addition of biologically active substances to food
Group B – The contribution of novel foods to food security and sustainability
Group C – Public attitudes to innovation and risk

I chose Group C as I thought it might be the least controversial of the three, especially because I have very strong opinions about the first two issues and was not seeking to press them on anyone. Unfortunately, my group seemed bent on discussing nanotechnology, which was raised and kept in play throughout the session, especially by the British Soft Drinks Association representative. She was so vocal (despite declaring something wrong with her voice – possibly just overuse) that I thought she was a member of the ACNFP at first!

Nanotechnology, it was claimed was based on natural processes and nothing to take exception to. I asked for this to be explained and was told that nanomaterials are natural and engineering them is not seen as unnatural. The message was that consumers need to get with it!! I’d rather they kept out of my life with their nano manipulations, because as super as Seven of Nine was with her nanoprobes in Star Trek, I prefer being 100% human to being part Borg any day, thanks very much. But, scientists will continue to meddle with our food in the name of progress and the government is continuing to facilitate this activity.

Another point that came up was that everyone in the room was a consumer. But some consumers are more easily persuaded than others.  To show what I have in mind, I will briefly explain the difference in consumer status between people from a few employment affiliations.

For a start, take the military where a person is a soldier first and citizen second. This is one of the most drastic examples. Basic human rights may be denied for the sake of the battle, such as the right to life. Other rights are often set aside as well, such as the right to bear children. Do as you’re told and no questioning authority are drummed into recruits.  This type of consumer is prone to following advertisements and not questioning anything that has an authoritative ring about it.

Using a slightly different scenario, scientists involved in the novel food business are employees first and individuals second. If what’s best for the organisation is not best for the employee personally, the employee will comply or face the consequences.  It would seem logical that these employees would support the consumption of novel foods, regardless of any personal reservations.

The management of big companies are also prone to supporting innovative products and ever increasing consumption because they have more money and MBAs from top upstanding learning institutions where it is taught to promote anything that makes a profit and externalise everything else. In addition, this is why many business people cannot be trusted and need lots of laws and lawyers.  The issue of externalisation came up at the end of the Workshop with the comment that businesses dealing in novel foods should not be penalised by sustainability issues that are not legal requirements.  Seeing as it had not filtered down to this neck of the woods yet, I brought the TEEB report (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) for business to everyone's attention.

And finally, who leads the army? The government, of course. And they obviously lead business too. This is why, for the most part, we cannot trust the government either. If you can't trust them, how can you believe them? So the One Straw Revolution, which is about living a simple life in a natural, harmonious and peaceful manner, appeals to me once again.

What with the Government being partners in business as concluded in the book EU Policy, engaged in the Responsibility Deal as recently explained in the House of Lords and being advised by the likes of the FSA (with the ACNFP and other scientists), I hope that more consumers (whether in a big organisation or not) wake up soon to the fact that they are being sucked in, assimilated and used up in order to feed the Borg-like economic machine.

With a lot of business pressure and little to none from unaffiliated consumers or consumer groups, the ACNFP is hardly a buffer, despite the innate desire of members to be unbiased and fair. Along with the FSA, they are easily pressed into the position of being facilitators and promoters of business in novel foods and food ingredients, the vast majority of which are highly processed creations of over fertile minds.

My conclusion is that the ACNFP cannot adequately serve consumers because they are geared to serve certain businesses whose products are primarily to make a profit, not to promote human welfare.  It's in the nature of the business (commercial activity involving the exchange of money for novel foods), but not in the business of nature (the food chain activity which is not clearly described or defined).

Photo 1 credit - chickow clone that produces eggs and milk all in one go! --
                            hypothetically speaking!

Photo 2 credit - Seven of Nine drone