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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 269 No 7226 p782
30 November 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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Food safety

Medicines Act affects public confidence

From Mr J. H. Verrall, MRPharmS

For some time the public has not had confidence in food safety and this is due in no small part to the existence of Section 118 of the Medicines Act 1968. This "confidentiality clause" covers all information submitted in a product licence application and prevents open discussion on food safety issues. There appears to be little justification for such information to remain confidential (except perhaps for such things as details of a manufacturing process) and, since some data submitted by companies have not been peer-reviewed, there is every reason for it to be open to scrutiny and debate. That information relating to the safety of food is "proprietary and confidential", as suggested by some organisations, is unacceptable.

At Veterinary Medicines Directorate/stakeholder meetings, it has been established that the industry as well as the VMD are in favour of the repeal or amendment of Section 118 and, in the past, the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture has recommended "an early repeal of Section 118".

The Food Standards Agency, created by the Government because of the significant lack of confidence in food safety following "mad cow" disease, has also expressed support for the section's early repeal in the hope that "it will bring about greater transparency of the approval process".

The lead for such action is to be taken by the Medicines Control Agency and I understand this is to be implemented on the back of the Freedom of Information Act which, in a diluted form, received royal assent on 30 November 2000. However, the Lord Chancellor has said that the Act will not be implemented in all public authorities until January 2005 at the earliest. One wonders why there is such a delay and why it has to be implemented in all public bodies at one time.

What would appear to be an unnecessary delay in the repeal or amendment of Section 118 is to be regretted. Only when this is undertaken can public confidence in food safety be renewed.

John Verrall
Battle, East Sussex

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