Chemical analysis has a key part in safeguarding our food. The vast majority of UK food is safe and honestly labelled, but threats include food fraud such as species substitution and unapproved GMOs, excess pesticides, metals, veterinary residues, mycotoxins and illegal additives. Compounds migrating from plastics also pose a risk and hidden allergens can prove fatal. Policing these threats is vital, but is there an appeal mechanism if a food business has evidence the official lab results might not be correct? European and UK law provide for the Government Chemist to resolve disputes between UK Official Analysts (e.g. Public Analysts) and food businesses. The retained part of a formal sample may be submitted as a technical appeal to the Government Chemist for a definitive investigation, the “referee analysis”.
On the 13 May, in a joint IFST/RSC Analytical Division lecture Michael Walker, the Referee Analyst, described the regulatory landscape and examples of Government Chemist referee casework touching on many of the above threats. In around 85 % of instances the official findings are upheld. But in every case a detailed report is given to both parties. Such casework also gives us an opportunity to learn lessons from when laboratories get it wrong, often because of lack of awareness of context.
A lively discussion followed among the audience, in a very modern lecture theatre in the Keir building in Queen’s University Belfast. Michael was grateful for the support shown for his talk from his colleagues including the current IFST President, Maureen Edmondson, past President Jack Pearce and past President of the Analytical Division Duncan Thorburn Burns.