Nutrition Science Advisory Committee (NSAC): Terms of Reference

High quality scientific evidence supports Health Canada’s policy development, regulation of products, and provision of services. Health Canada is creating the Nutrition Scientific Advisory Committee, a standing committee of experts, to support its work.

The Nutrition Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) will ensure consistency with the principles set out in the Health Canada – Public Health Agency Scientific Integrity Policy and all associated guidelines. The Committee will also be subject to clear and transparent conflict of interest procedures as outlined in these Terms of Reference.

These Terms of Reference of the NSAC were accepted on November 18, 2020.

1. Mandate

To provide Health Canada with timely and independent scientific and technical advice related to nutrition, including current and emerging research within the field.

The committee will provide advice in several key areas:

  1. Emerging scientific trends impacting the nutritional health of Canadians, including horizon scanning;
  2. Best practices in assessing and evaluating scientific evidence to inform public health nutrition policy;
  3. Topics for which evidence reviews are timely and relevant to public health nutrition (e.g. where there are significant new research findings to be reviewed);
  4. Nutrition within a broad public health context, including where diet is one of a number of risk factors (e.g. cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and/or obesity);
  5. Nutrition issues across the lifecycle, including nutrition of vulnerable groups (e.g. infants and the elderly), among sub-populations with particular attention to health inequities; and
  6. Effectiveness of population and systems level interventions to improve the nutritional health of Canadians.

The Committee explores topics identified by Health Canada and/or recommended by the Committee members and provides expert scientific and technical advice. Health Canada has the responsibility and sole authority to make decisions with respect to the mandate of this advisory body. The Committee provides Health Canada with advice, but the decision-making responsibility remains with Health Canada.

2. Reporting structure

The NSAC reports to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) of Health Canada. The Director General (DG) of Policy, Planning and International Affairs Directorate (PPIAD), HPFB will serve as the Executive Secretary to the Committee, and Secretariat services will be provided by PPIAD, HPFB.

To ensure strong linkages between the work of NSAC and Health Canada food and nutrition programs, the HPFB ADM and Co-Chairs of the Committee will work with the Office of Nutrition Policy & Promotion, the Food Directorate, and the HPFB Senior Medical Advisor.

3. Membership

3.1 Selection of members

Members of the proposed NSAC are to be recruited through an open nomination process. In addition, potential members may also be identified through consultation with a broad range of sources, such as: health professional and scientific societies; academia; and/or the public. Health Canada and other federal government officials may not serve as members of the NSAC; however, the Department will leverage the expertise available across the Government of Canada. This process is designed to ensure requisite expertise and experience and a variety of perspectives, promoting diversity and inclusiveness.

The HPFB ADM will appoint core and ad hoc members from among the nominees, following a review by a selection committee. The selection committee will be composed of the Government of Canada staff with expertise in science, and may include: representatives from the Office of the Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Canada and the HPFB Senior Medical Advisor. An external conflict of interest expert is to advise the selection committee.

Two Co-Chairs will be selected by the HPFB ADM from the core members.

To preserve the independence of the federal government as a decision maker, a federal employee can neither chair nor be a member of an advisory body and cannot participate in the formulation of an advisory body’s advice to Health Canada.

3.2 Types of members

Members’ expertise must be current in public health nutrition or nutritional sciences, and related and relevant fields as provided in Appendix A.

3.3 Tenure

Members are appointed by the HPFB ADM for terms up to three-years long, which may be extended for additional terms based on the members’ availability and willingness to continue their membership.  Core members will be permanent members for the duration of their terms and ad hoc members will be invited to serve on working groups for a specific topic or group of topics. The Secretariat will review membership on a regular basis in consultation with the Co-Chairs, and will make recommendations to the HPFB ADM. The Secretariat will endeavor to ensure that appointments of members are scheduled to allow for continuity and systematic rotation of membership.

3.4 Size of the committee

The NSAC core committee will have up to 8 members total. Membership may be periodically adjusted to ensure the appropriate representation of expertise and experience.

The number of members in ad hoc working groups may vary, depending on the topic and the range of expertise required.

3.5 Affiliations and interests

As a condition of appointment, potential members of the NSAC are required to complete and return the “Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form for Advisory Body Members.” This form is used to disclose to the Secretariat any circumstances that may place, or be seen to place the member in a real, apparent, or potential conflict of interest. Health Canada seeks nominees who do not currently have, and have not for the past two years, direct or indirect affiliations and interests with food and beverage industries.

In keeping with the Privacy Act, this completed Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form is considered confidential. The HPFB will not make public any information in the form without the member’s permission. However, as a condition of membership, members will allow the Secretariat to publish on Health Canada’s website a “Summary of Expertise, Experience, and Affiliations and Interests,” which will be based on the completed Declaration Form. Members will be asked to review the content of the Summary for accuracy before its release.

It is incumbent upon the member to update his/her declaration in writing, should his/her personal situation change or where the matters before the Committee may affect the conflict of interest situation of a member. Declarations will be assessed by the Secretariat prior to the appointment and as updates occur.

At the beginning of each meeting, the HPFB ADM or the Co-Chairs will ask members to make a verbal statement of their relevant affiliations and interests. The level of participation of a member in conflict is determined by the Co-Chairs in consultation with the other members of the Committee and the HPFB ADM.

Members are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, i.e., the use of their positions cannot be reasonably construed to be for their private gain or that of any other person, company, or organization.

3.6 Indemnification and legal assistance

All members serve on the NSAC on a voluntary basis. In keeping with the Treasury Board’s “Policy on Legal Assistance and Indemnification” the members are eligible for the same protection against personal civil liability as federal employees when faced with comparable risks while acting within the mandate of the NSAC and serving as volunteers.

3.7 Travel and expenses

The members are not compensated for their participation on NSAC. They will be reimbursed for certain expenses incurred during their work on the NSAC such as travel and accommodation, according to the Treasury Board’s “Directive on Travel, Hospitality, Conference and Event Expenditures.”

3.8 Resignation from the committee

An individual may withdraw from service on the NSAC at any time upon 14 days written notice to the Secretariat. The letter should state the effective date of resignation.

3.9 Reasons for termination

Core members who are absent from three consecutive meetings of the NSAC will forfeit membership in the Committee. Ad hoc members who do not attend in response to two consecutive invitations will forfeit membership in the Committee. Generally, a member’s failure to act according to the Terms of Reference may give cause for termination. In this event, the HPFB ADM will advise the member in writing, stating the reason for the termination and the effective date.

3.10 Official languages

In keeping with the federal Official Languages Act, the NSAC members have the right to receive documents and participate in discussions in the official language of their choice.

4. Roles and responsibilities

4.1 Members

Members of the NSAC have a responsibility to Health Canada and by extension to Canadians, to offer their independent and objective advice. Other responsibilities include:

4.2 Presenters and observers

Presenters and observers may not participate in discussions at the NSAC meeting unless the Co-Chairs specifically invite them to do so. Only the committee members may participate in the formulation of advice or recommendations to Health Canada.

4.3 Co-Chairs

In addition to all the responsibilities of a member, the Co-Chairs are responsible for the following:

4.4 Secretariat

The Secretariat liaises between members and Health Canada, and acts as a resource for members. It also provides leadership and strategic advice in the management of the NSAC and works closely with the Co-Chairs. In addition, the Secretariat:

4. 5 Support to the Secretariat

Health Canada employees may assist the Secretariat with meeting logistics, document preparation, and other tasks.

4. 6 Governmental Subject matter experts

Medical, scientific, technical, program, policy, and other governmental subject matter experts support the work of a committee in a variety of ways, including:

4. 7 Assistant Deputy Minister of the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB ADM)

The HPFB ADM makes decisions about the NSAC and its advice/recommendations. The HPFB ADM provides leadership and strategic advice in the management of the NSAC and works closely with the Co-Chairs and Secretariat. The HPFB ADM may attend meetings as and when required.

4. 8 Media and communications

All members are expected to protect and maintain as confidential any privileged information divulged during the work of the Committee. Discussion of NSAC work with the media, at conferences or at other external events shall only take place when authorized by the HPFB ADM. Members who receive communications from the media should inform the Secretariat in a timely manner.

In the case of media requests, the HPFB ADM, will coordinate a response in consultation with the Co-Chairs and the Health Canada Media Relations and will appoint a member to be the media spokesperson when circumstances warrant this.

Documents leaving Health Canada, including electronic records, must be securely stored at all times and must be returned to Health Canada or permanently deleted upon request.

5.0 Management and administration

5.1 Transparency

Health Canada is committed to ensuring transparency as an operating principle by:

5.2 Meeting agendas

The agenda and specific questions and issues for NSAC discussions will be determined by the Co-Chairs in consultation with the HPFB ADM and the Executive Secretary.

5.3 Meeting notices and invitations

All meetings are held at the call of the HPFB ADM in consultation with the Co-Chairs.  Meeting attendance is by invitation only. Notices are sent by the Secretariat. Members receive the agenda, briefing material and presentations, in advance of the meeting.

5.4 Frequency, type, and location of meetings

Core Committee meetings will be held up to two times per year virtually or in the National Capital Region. Additional meetings and/or teleconferences may be held on an as needed basis at the discretion of the HPFB ADM in consultation with the Co-Chairs and Secretariat. A meeting cannot be held unless quorum is achieved. The quorum is determined to be at least one-half the number of existing core members, one of which must be a Co-Chair.

For all teleconferences, members should ensure that any person who has not been approved by the Co-Chairs and Secretariat may not listen to the proceedings.

The NSAC may be required to hold a meeting, or parts of a meeting, in public to allow the public to observe the discussions and understand the issues under consideration.

5.5 Deliberations and reports

Deliberations during meetings may be held in camera upon confirmation by members in order to foster open, frank, and free-flowing discussion and in these cases are not electronically recorded. All members have equal status during discussion, and are expected to demonstrate fairness and a commitment to in-depth examination of matters under review. Only topics that fit within the mandate of the NSAC are to be discussed.

At the discretion of the Co-Chairs and with the approval of the HPFB ADM, specific experts/stakeholders may be invited to make presentations to the Committee in writing or in person.

The Co-Chairs and the HPFB ADM may grant observer status, for all, or part of, the Committee deliberations to selected individuals who would benefit from the deliberations of the Committee.

Members provide advice to Health Canada that is captured in Records of Proceedings (RoP). The NSAC is encouraged to reach a consensus in providing advice whenever possible. When a consensus is not possible, the RoP will reflect the diversity of opinions and/or lack of consensus. The reasons for a lack of consensus, if any, must be clearly identified and substantiated. In such cases, the NSAC shall make a recommendation with respect to further study of the issue and a proposal for resolution. In cases where there is a real divergence of opinion, the different opinions will be documented, and the number of members supporting each opinion recorded.

A draft RoP is prepared by the Secretariat and circulated to members for review, and final approval by the Co-Chairs, Executive Secretary, and the HPFB ADM. As a condition of membership, members shall agree to the audio recording of the meeting and to the publication of the RoP on Health Canada’s web site. This agreement shall be confirmed verbally at the start of every meeting. Invited guest speakers will be given the opportunity to review the draft RoP to ensure that their views are properly captured. The final RoP will summarize the proceedings to reflect the advice offered.  The Secretariat is responsible for the distribution of the RoP.

When issues are of a general nature, the agenda and the record of proceedings will be posted on Health Canada’s web site in both official languages. In the event that the Co-Chairs and the HPFB ADM believe that the NSAC would benefit from broader stakeholder input, a portion of the meeting could become public.

5.6 Review

The Secretariat will review the NSAC every 3 years, and will work with the HPFB ADM and the Co-Chairs to review the mandate, activities, Terms of Reference, and relevance of the NSAC to ensure that it continues to meet the ongoing needs of Health Canada. The HPFB ADM retains the prerogative to disband the body following such a review. Recommendations for improvement will be considered on an ongoing basis.

6.0 References

The HPFB’s “Health Canada Policy on External Advisory Bodies (2011)” governs the Terms of Reference, and the management and administration of the NSAC.

Appendix A

Significant and recent expertise in at least one of the following areas is required for membership:

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