A Food and Nutritional Surveillance System for Ireland


Background The need for a national food and nutrition policy is increasingly recognised by governments of developed as well as developing societies. Such policies represent an agreed strategy for the most efficient use of national food resources to meet health, social and economic priorities. Given the inter-relationships between food production, food supply, consumption and health effects, any strategy of this kind must involve several sectors, both public and private. The outcome of such a strategy would be a series of recommendations to be applied through sectoral programmes in order to achieve a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to a set of common goals. Tentative policies have been established by some European governments while discussion of scope and content of policy has been undertaken by others. In Ireland, various public services and institutions have considered the need for such a policy and the health sector has defined a set of recommendations for policy consideration. To date, no multisectoral policy body has been established. However, in the second quarter of 1981, a university-based seminar was conducted to examine the needs and mechanisms for policy making in this area (coordinated by Matthews, 1981). It may be questioned whether there is a need for an explicit food and nutrition policy in Ireland, given that available food supply is in excess of population requirements (see Section 5 below). However, in common with most western societies, the existence of a surplus food supply in Ireland is of itself casually associated with the emergence of a series of health problems contributing to identified changes in mortality, morbidity and health care needs. In addition, various bio-social groups have been identified as suffering from specific deficiency states arising from changing requirements and patterns of food consumption (see McGann etal., 1911, and CreedonetaL, 1975). In attempting to resolve such nutrition-related health problems, governments and professional bodies, in this country and elsewhere, have made specific recommendations regarding changes in food consumption patterns that have been widely publicised (Turner, 1980, and report of the Health Advisory Committee An Foras Taluntais, and references therein). These recommendations have already had direct effects on food consumption patterns in countries to which Ireland exports its products and more recently changes in consumption in the home market have commenced. These changes have been relatively rapid and are perceived to have potentially adverse effects on retailing, processing and production of specific food items. Clearly, consumer interests and health recommendations may be expected to have an increasing impact on all sectors of the food industry in the future. The need for a food and nutrition policy seems therefore to be evident, though government initiative in this area has not yet emerged on a multisectoral basis. One of the basic prerequisites for the effective formulation of policy is a comprehensive data support system that will provide continuous information on a range of nutritional


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