I READ with interest John Crawford’s recent informed Agenda article ("Councils must beef up environmental health, The Herald, August 13). Although now retired from senior environmental health and waste management posts within local government and from lecturing on environmental health at the University of Strathclyde he remains an influential and highly respected voice within Scotland’s environmental health community.

Environmental health officers (EHOs) are educated, trained and qualified to protect and improve the health of Scotland’s people from adverse health effects that they encounter day and daily from the environments they live and work in. They are generalists on qualification and deemed competent by the institute following academic success on an accredited BSc (Hons) Environmental Health degree course, on the institute’s Scheme of Professional Training and in the institute’s professional examination for the Diploma in Environmental Health.

Local authorities, the home of the service for around 150 years, have been actively shedding EHO posts, along with food safety officer and technical support staff posts, since local government reorganisation in 1996. The situation is now critical.

With the reduction in EHO posts came the reduction in the number of training placements for student/graduate trainee EHOs within local authorities. School leavers realising that career paths into the profession are now few and far between realise that a future career in the service is, at best, uncertain and opt to follow different careers with the result that degree courses struggle to remain viable. In the past few years three courses accredited by the institute (the BSc Honours degree courses at the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde, and the MSc degree course at the University of Strathclyde) have closed due to the lack of students. Only one degree course accredited by the institute, the University of the West of Scotland) is currently presented in Scotland.

Working groups have been convened, seminars presented, reports published, articles written and questions asked at the Scottish Parliament on the future delivery of the Environmental Health Service in Scotland. All outcomes have pointed to the importance of the profession and the local authority-based service to the protection and improvement of public health but when it comes to resolving the issues no one organisation has full autonomy to turn the situation around.

Local authorities are cash strapped and the environmental health service is one of many struggling to deliver. The Scottish Government and Cosla have been discussing the wider issues surrounding improving the health of Scotland’s people and how the various services can co-operate to deliver improvement but progress appears to be slow.

The Scottish Government’s ongoing review of the public health function has identified the environmental health service as a core contributor to the delivery of public health. However, for the service to positively influence public health EHOs and the service will have to be placed at the centre of the decision making process within local authorities and not be left on the periphery being viewed solely as regulators and not as key public health professionals with a wide range of professional competencies all of which are geared towards carrying out interventions which will more effectively improve and protect public health in Scotland.

The outcome of the ongoing deliberations between all interested parties is awaited with optimism.

The question our politicians and society as a whole need to ask themselves is: how much do we value a properly resourced competent environmental health profession and service and support them to continue to effectively protect and improve the health of the public on the frontline?

Tom Bell, Chartered Environmental Health Officer,

Chief Executive, The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland,

19 Torphichen Street, Edinburgh.

THE all-powerful European Union prides itself in having regulations covering everything from the cradle to the grave yet, with its voluminous legislative, fiscal and legal powers, one might think it would have a tighter and more vociferous control over one important aspect of food hygiene – handling money while serving meat and poultry.

Over the years I've witnesses butchers (and others in the food trade) taking customers' money and then handling raw meat and vice versa.

This practice is not determined under EU law – or indeed by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) – as requiring any form of compulsory enforcement. It appears, from a reply I received from FSS to a request for clarification of this issue, “the regulations do not specify the procedure to be used when handling raw meat and money”.

However, EU Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 sets out the general food hygiene requirements with which food businesses must comply which is directly applicable to all member states. It asserts: “Food business operators shall ensure that all stages of production, processing and distribution of food under their control satisfy the relevant hygiene requirements laid down in this regulation.” Therefore, says the FSS, “a food business is under an obligation to ensure hygiene practices meet this requirement” but nothing directly on this issue.

I find this totally incredible.

My wife recalls that, when she worked as a customer service officer in the Bank of Scotland, staff were advised to wash their hands after handling cash before touching food and even their faces.

On leaving the European Union, perhaps our own food hygiene regulations might reflect a more rigorous policy on the handling of raw meat, poultry and money which better addresses and thereby better protects the health of the nation.

NJ Hunter,

79 Caledonian Road, Stevenston.