Food for Thought
SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE ON FOOD - AN INTRODUCTION
The FAC obtains advice on the safety of food chemicals from a variety of expert bodies. One of the most important and influential of these is the SCF. So what is the SCF?
Role and work of the SCF
The SCF, or EU Scientific Committee on Food, was established in 1974 and is the principal body providing the European Commission with independent scientific advice on questions of public health related to the consumption of food. The Commission must consult the SCF whenever is it legally required to do so. However, it may also decide to consult the Committee on any other problem relating consumer health and food safety. The SCF itself may also alert the Commission to any specific or emerging problem in these areas.
The majority of the SCF's early work concerned food additives but other areas of work have become increasingly important as the scope of EU legislation has extended. As well as food additives, the SCF now covers flavourings, food contact materials, nutrition, contaminants, food hygiene, novel foods and natural mineral waters
The Commission appoints independent scientific experts from across the EU to serve as SCF members. Their main role is to give objective authoritative advice across a range of food-related issues. The Commission advertised all the posts on this and its other scientific committees during 1997, and the 17 current SCF members took up their posts in December. These include experts in the fields of toxicology, nutrition, microbiology, food hygiene, food technology, biotechnology and molecular genetics.
At each meeting, SCF members are required to declare any commercial or other interests in the items being discussed. These declarations are included in the minutes which are now publicly available on the Internet (see below).
In order to deal with the detailed issues involved in its work, the SCF has established eight working groups covering the following areas:
- Food contact materials
- Food hygiene and microbiology
- Intake and exposure
- Novel foods and processes
- Nutrition and dietetic foods
Each working group is chaired by a SCF member who regularly reports back to the main body on the working group's activities and conclusions. The membership of each working group is drawn from amongst SCF members, supplemented by
ad hoc experts with appropriate expertise who participate on a meeting by meeting basis by invitation of the Commission.
Last year, following a review of the Commission's handling of the BSE crisis, the Commission restructured its committees, replacing some and creating others. All of these committees are now overseen by the Scientific Steering Committee (formerly the Multi-disciplinary Scientific Committee), which also deals with the some specific issues such as BSE. Responsibility for all the advisory scientific committees was also transferred to DG XXIV, which deals with Consumer Policy and Consumer Health Protection. This was done to preserve the independence of these committees by separating the provision of expert advice from the policy and legislative parts of the Commission.
More information on the SCF, including copies of its opinions on the issues it has considered and the minutes of its meetings, can be obtained via the European Commission's Website: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/ncomm1/index_en.html. The SCF's opinions are also published by the EC publications office as reports in the
Food Science and Techniques series. A summary of the items discussed by the SCF is provided at regular intervals in the MAFF/DH Food Safety Information Bulletin.
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