Launch of the Food Safety Promotion Board

It is a great pleasure for me to be here in this beautiful part of the island and to be involved in the launch of the Food Safety Promotion Board.

Minister de BrĂșn has indicated in her address the key promotional role that the body will play. This role is central to the Board’s mission, a fact which is reflected in the title of the organisation.

However, there are a number of other specific functions given to the Board which should not be lost sight of.

In the area of food safety research, for example, the Food Safety Promotion Board will identify research priorities and fund research initiatives. It has already made a start in this area and has commissioned six projects that are being announced today. The research programme will be aimed at addressing gaps in our knowledge and will help the Board to focus its activities more clearly.

The Board also has a remit to recommend action on foot of its research findings. It is important that the Board act as a focal point for research that is currently underway or planned. Its all-island nature will be valuable in providing linkages between research programmes in Ireland and the United Kingdom and it will maintain links with wider international bodies.

The prompt and accurate communication of food alerts is vital in protecting consumers and engendering confidence in the food supply. Now, while the actual management of the individual outbreaks is a matter for the enforcement agencies – the Food Safety Authority in the South and the Food Standards Agency in the North – the Food Safety Promotion Board has particular responsibility for cross-border liaison in such situations. It is already working closely with the enforcement agencies in this area and it has facilitated cross border training events which will begin later this month.

One of the greatest challenges facing any food safety regime is accurately identifying the nature and source of disease. The Food Safety Promotion Board’s surveillance function is therefore the key to providing the sort of information that the Board and the other agencies need in order to target their interventions. The linking of food, human and animal data to allow comprehensive analysis will allow public health professionals to react quickly and decisively to emerging problems.

We all know that foodborne disease presents a real threat to public health, and can be fatal to those who are particularly vulnerable such as the very young and the frail elderly. Allied to this surveillance function the Board will promote scientific co-operation and linkages between laboratories. This will facilitate not just the exchange of information but will provide a forum for the sharing of knowledge, experience and best practice.

Laboratories are often perceived as a “backroom” operation and as such their contribution is often overlooked. The Food Safety Promotion Board’s remit in this area will be to ensure that this vital service is developed and strengthened. In particular the Board has been given the task of developing and maintaining a strategy for the delivery of specialised laboratory services for the island. The launch of the Food Safety Promotion Board adds value to our fostering of a food safety culture.

Disease does not respect any borders and is indiscriminate in its targets. As policy-makers, health professionals and food providers, we owe it to the people of this island to create confidence in the food supply. It is an economic imperative, and more importantly a public health one.

In conclusion, the Food Safety Promotion Board will play an important role in the promotion of food safety and the promotion of scientific co-operation and linkages between laboratories on this island. I would like to wish everybody involved with the Board well, and to thank them for their wholehearted co-operation in bringing the Board to this stage. I wish the Board every success in its future endeavours.