Reply to the Sunday Times, 14 June 2021
safefood’s mission is to contribute to health and wellbeing by promoting food safety and healthy eating on the island of Ireland. Over the past 20 years since our establishment, we have continually campaigned to improve children’s health. Our ongoing five-year START public awareness campaign was developed alongside parents to reflect their real-life experiences of trying to eat more healthily and be more active. Our research into energy drinks, children’s food portions, supermarket promotions and food poverty have all highlighted the challenges for families of navigating today’s food environment. These research examples have also contributed to policy development that will have a long-lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of families. Our work in pre-school and primary education provides resources to help children learn about topics such as healthy eating and handwashing and to give practical advice to parents.
As a founder member of the All-island Obesity Action Forum, we work closely with stakeholders across the island to support the implementation of obesity policies. As an all-island agency, we fully support plans in both jurisdictions that recognise the importance of, and actions to support, breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not a current focus of our work and is therefore not an item for discussion by our safefood Advisory Committee (SAC). This is because breastfeeding communications are covered by the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland and the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. These agencies have direct contact with mothers throughout their pregnancies and early infancies.
Of our current advisory committee, two are representatives from the food industry while the other ten members are drawn from the fields of diet and health, food science, communications and behaviour change, state and regulatory bodies. All committee members must comply with corporate governance requirements set out by safefood, which deal with any potential for a conflict of interest. Should this occur, members are required to highlight any potential conflict and must step back from any discussions in these areas. Expressions of interest to join the committee are publicly advertised and members act in a voluntary, unpaid, and personal capacity. We select members based on the totality of their experience and the breadth of professional expertise they can bring to the Committee. They are not selected to represent their current employer.
Our advisory committee has been in operation for 20 years and has been periodically reviewed as new committees are selected. Their role is a consultative one and the committee is not a decision-making forum. It is there to inform on initiatives and emerging trends within the food environment. There have been changes to the number and type of expertise included in the committee membership during this time as our needs change. This process will continue to evolve as new issues emerge in food safety and nutrition. safefood’s work has always been fully independent of the food industry. Understanding the food environment is important in our ability to support the implementation of policies and programmes that will enhance the health and well-being of people across the island.