The feasibility of linking consumption data to health outcomes came to light this week following investigations into the buying and eating of novel foods, including genetically modified foods.
In May 1999, a report from the UK's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor was published reviewing the health implications of genetically modified foods (Donaldson and May, 1999). It made a number of recommendations, including "instituting population health surveillance...to monitor population health aspects of genetically modified and other types of novel foods" .
As a result, the UK food safety body - the Food Standards Agency (FSA) - linked up with a range of stakeholders, including the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), to explore two commercially available databases and their potential for long-term monitoring of foods and food ingredients.
Essentially, the study - undertaken by Imperial College - analysed data on general food consumption and food purchasing patterns, as well as monitoring the buying and eating of a number of specific marker products.
Difficulties arose when monitoring individual ingredients that are incorporated into a wide variety of foods, such as soya flour. In addition, Imperial College was unable to assess individual consumption of foods because available purchase and sales data is based on a sample of households or generated at supermarket level (and then further aggregated for confidentiality).
As a result, the rather disappointing outcome from the feasibility study means that it only examined food product data, and not health data.
Stakeholders will go back to the drawing board and are due to meet to discuss the outcome of the project and its recommendations on 30 September.