Government Chemist strategy defines short and long term drivers

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: ©iStock
Picture: ©iStock

Related tags: Government chemist, Mass spectrometry

The Government Chemist is to build capability in molecular biology (next generation sequencing), NMR and protein mass spectrometry in the next few years.

It will also start looking at disputes from application of point of use technologies and the consumer as an analyst.

Focus areas come from the Government Chemist strategy 2017-2020 which was developed following stakeholder consultation and horizon scanning.

Implications of possible changes in securing regulatory compliance and the UK’s exit from the European Union will be kept under review, according to the document.

The Government Chemist is the referee analyst under Acts of Parliament and is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with an annual budget of £1.1m.

The consultation was before the vote result but it was acknowledged Brexit could change the financing and direction of the Government Chemist.

“Financial in terms of less resource means more would be pushed to manufacturers and retailers who would use a diverse range of labs with a wide range of approaches. This is likely to result in a less harmonized approach.”

Some previous topics for capability building that continue to cause measurement issues are product authenticity/geographical origin, allergens and advice and guidance on sampling.

LGC is a UK National Reference Laboratory for GMOs in feed and food and for feed additives.

It said referee casework continues to be demand led, non-routine and generally high profile.

Only as good as the database

In the short term, increased use of non-targeted methods is expected, for rapid screening and as point of use analysis for official controls e.g. portable XRF.

“This raises questions on how will this change enforcement activity, how will these devices be calibrated accurately and be accredited, especially as they will only focus on a target group of analytes, what could be missed- unknown unknowns. These technologies will only be as good as databases that back them up and require assurances of the validity of the data within them.”

The falling cost of next generation sequencing means it can be applied to individual samples to establish species or to bacterial communities for product authentication for probiotics and to determine geographical origin.

“In the longer term this will also be a requirement to be able to deal with the rapid advancement of synthetic biology and potentially cloning. Longer term it is also perceived that omics and fingerprinting approaches will become more common place ...”

Challenges in the supply chain in the short term include new ingredients, supplements and functional foods; does the food contain what is claimed and are there new contaminants such as algae food supplements possibly containing cyano-bacteria.

“Also still seen as a priority is the improvement in the quality and global consistency of food allergen detection from the food manufacturing environment through the supply chain to high end laboratories.”

Longer term, alternative food sources are predicted to becoming more common such as insects and artificial meat and intelligent and edible packing may be introduced.

Consumer becoming analyst

Capability building is required in rapid, non-targeted multi-analyte methods capable of moving from the lab to the field like emerging optical techniques such as multispectral imaging (MSI) and mass spectrometry coupled to ambient ionisation.

The other predicted trend was the consumer could become the analyst, being able to carry out composition and allergen analysis using hand held devices (such as Tellspec) that appear to offer the opportunity to check allergen and nutrition declarations on pack.

This could result in them contacting trading standards or samples coming from the consumer directly.

Sometimes regulations are set based on the toxicological scientific evidence, but the analytical testing cannot achieve those limits so they must reflect capabilities.

“There does appear to be, particularly in the EU, a tendency to draft legislation without considered reflection on the measurements which are necessary as part of the monitoring or enforcement processes.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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