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Science supporting trust in food: conference report

Approximately 60 different organisations attended the 2016 Government Chemist Conference at the Royal Society in June

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The 2016 Government Chemist Conference was a great success, with over 120 delegates attending the Royal Society on 21 and 22 June to learn about the latest developments in the areas of food fraud, food authenticity and food safety. Approximately 60 different organisations were represented, including public analyst laboratories and contract testing laboratories, research associations, government, universities, instrument suppliers and food manufacturers.

A panel briefing beforehand, held in conjunction with the Science Media Centre and featuring Selvarani Elahi, Michael Walker and Prof Richard Evershed, prompted a lively Q&A session with the journalists present and resulted in articles in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Derek Craston, the Government Chemist, opened the conference followed by a keynote lecture from the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) and Head of the Government Office for Science, Sir Mark Walport. Sir Mark highlighted the findings of his second annual report ‘Forensic science and beyond: authenticity, provenance and assurance’. He focused on some of the challenges in food authenticity control, such as how our ability to analyse may outstrip our ability to interpret; the need for appropriate reference databases and the impact that values and beliefs have on objective scientific analysis. He also discussed how modern technologies can be used to assure the supply chain including block-chain for assuring authenticity and provenance, and exploiting the microbiome to test claims about product origin.

Other presentations across the two days included a talk by Paul Turner, Imperial College London, on the challenges of managing food allergies in the real world. He discussed recent advances in allergy prevention and the use of desensitisation treatment and the clinical challenges associated with allergy diagnostics.

The recent Government Chemist referee cases were presented by Michael Walker, LGC, with further technical details on the analysis underpinning the cumin/paprika case presented by Gavin Nixon and Chris Hopley (both of LGC).

Delegates also heard presentations on the roles of some of the bodies responsible for ensuring food safety and authenticity, including the Public Analyst Service, the UK Customs Laboratory, the Food Authenticity Network, the National Food Crime Unit and Food Standards Scotland, and the challenges they face. An international perspective on food safety was provided by Yiu-chung Wong from the Hong Kong Government Laboratory.

Derek Craston, Government Chemist said:

The GC conference is a key part of our dissemination activities and I am delighted, therefore, with the success of the 2016 event. I am particularly grateful to the excellent set of speakers who provided insightful information over a wide range of important topic areas. We look forward to our next biennial event in 2018.

John Robinson, Public Analyst, said:

It was a very worthwhile event to attend, a good CPD learning occasion and chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues.

Copies of the conference presentations will be made available on the Government Chemist website shortly.

In addition to support from the Government Chemist programme, sponsorship was received from DEFRA, FSA, Food Standards Scotland and the Association of Public Analysts Educational Trust.

Published 18 July 2016