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Salt and sattvic food

Recently, some colleagues from the Agency met with representatives of the Hindu community at Europe's largest traditional Hindu temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London. The day started with a meeting, followed by presentation on ayurveda and sattvic food. I was interested to learn more about sattvic food, which is said to be an approach that ‘gives life, strength, energy, health, happiness and satisfaction'. The sattvic dietary approach has some similarities to our healthy eating advice, but also has approaches that are distinct.

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends

How do we as scientists deal with a media that reports science in shock headlines – and do we need to police ourselves when some in our profession find it expedient to publish in the tabloids rather than journals such as Nature, for example?

Those were some of the questions being asked in the Agency yesterday evening when scientists and fellow travellers gathered to hear Professor Colin Blakemore present the inaugural Chief Scientist's Lecture. Colin is chair of the Agency's General Advisory Committee on Science and I was pleased to welcome him to speak to a packed room on communication of science over the past 15 years – and who the public trust to do that communication.

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Wise about science

A key part of the scientific process is challenging both the evidence and its analysis. This principle is embedded in the way the FSA does its work. This means that whether or not you’re a scientist you can engage with us, and challenge us at each stage of the process from framing the question through to generating the answer.  You can look at what we've done, the way we’ve done it and drill down to the evidence so you can make up your own mind.  

Just because we seek to involve you in the way that we develop our thinking and give you the opportunity to make up your own mind, doesn’t mean that we always get it right or that there’s not room for improvement.  This is why I am pleased to welcome the recent launch of the Sciencewise Expert Resources Centre.  Lord Robert Winston, the centre’s figurehead and leading ambassador, sees the new Sciencewise-ERC ‘as a valuable resource for developing two-way conversation with the public and, most importantly will build greater trust between Government, scientists and society as a whole’.

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Fancy a bit of Russian Roulette?

Now although I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a James Bond (I can hear my wife chortling), the truth is I’m not really a gambling man. While I might be tempted to hedge my bets in the Grand National, or on the 2p penny fall machines on Brighton Pier, I’d steer well clear of playing Russian roulette with use-by dates on food.

That’s why I was particularly perturbed by Jonathan Maitland’s use by dates 'experiment' reported in the Mail on Sunday yesterday. It reminded me of the type of justification some smokers used years ago – they could always point to their Great Aunt Bess who smoked her self silly for 50 years and never had a health problem. There’s always one, but would you advocate smoking on the back of this? Fortunately, food safety policy is based on sound science rather than meaningless experiments of one subject.

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Annual report of incidents

The FSA strives to inform consumers and protect them from food risks – this is one of the reasons the Agency came into being. One of the most important ways we do this is by working with industry, local authorities and consumers when there are problems associated with the food chain.

We have just published our second Annual Report of Food Incidents. This report shows that during 2007 the Agency handled 1,312 incident investigations. You will probably remember some of these, such as the bird flu outbreaks in East Anglia and the grounding of the MCS Napoli off the south coast. Behind the scenes though, there are often less high profile incidents. For example, over the Christmas period last year we helped prevent consumers eating mince pies containing rubber, and in September we worked with the food industry to remove cereals containing insects from the shelves.

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