Food Law News - UK - 2000

12 January 2000: FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY - Appointment of Leaders for the Food Standards Agency

DH Press Release (2000/0018), 12 January 2000

Appointment of Leaders for the Food Standards Agency

Professor Sir John Krebs - formerly Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, and a Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Zoology, Oxford University - has been appointed Chairman of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it was announced today.

His Deputy will be Ms Suzi Leather, who has twenty years of experience in consumer representation. The Chief Executive will be Mr Geoffrey Podger, the Head of the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group (JFSSG) of the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In making the announcement, Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, said: "The leaders of the new Food Standards Agency will bring both a fresh approach to food safety and standards, and a sound understanding of the key issues that will face the Agency as it starts to go about its work. Sir John's reputation as a distinguished scientist, with a long-standing interest in the explanation and communication of science, will be invaluable in the task of restoring public confidence in food safety which has been hit in recent years, most notably by BSE.

"Suzi Leather will bring to the Agency an outstanding reputation for representing consumer interests, particularly those on low income. As the independent assessor on nutritional inequalities for the Acheson Inquiry into Health Inequalities and chair of the National Heart Forum's Local Health Action project she has demonstrated her commitment to improving nutritional standards. Geoffrey Podger has played a leading role in creating the Food Standards Agency and the JFSSG, which has successfully paved the way for the new approach."

The Food Standards Agency will be established under the Food Standards Act 1999, which received Royal Assent on 11th November 1999. The Agency will take an overview of food safety and standards across the whole food chain, from farm to fork, with the main aim of protecting public health in relation to food. It is expected to begin work in Spring this year.

Sir John Krebs said: "I am delighted to accept the challenge of being the first Chairman of the Food Standards Agency. The safety and quality of the food we eat matters to every single person in this country. We already have high standards of food safety, but I want the Agency help strengthen the system even more, so that everyone can have confidence that public health is being properly protected.

"I also want the Agency to become a beacon of openness, and a model for the best use of science. My top priority in the run-up to the Agency's launch next Spring will be to meet with representatives of consumers and all the other stakeholders, particularly food manufacturers and retailers. All have worked so hard to the make the Agency a reality, and I want to get their views on how together we should tackle the job of making the Agency a success."

Suzi Leather said: "In the UK in recent times, food scares have largely been about the handling of technical scientific advice. This kind of advice is now rightly subject to far greater media and public scrutiny. Perceptions of how food decisions are arrived at - including the involvement of consumers - and communicated, are central to recovering public confidence. I am delighted that I will be able to play a role in this process as Deputy Chair of the new Agency."

The proposals to set up a Food Standards Agency have been the subject of extensive consultation, starting in May 1997 with the issue of the James report (The Food Standards Agency - An interim Proposal), followed by the White Paper (The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change) in January 1998 and the draft Food Standards Bill in January 1999. The draft Bill was also the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by a Select Committee, whose report was published in March 1999.

The Food Standards Act 1999 provides for the Agency to be a UK body accountable to Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It will operate at arm's length from Ministers under the day-to-day responsibility of a Chairman, deputy Chairman, and members.

Professor Sir John Krebs is a scientist of international standing whose research interests are in quantitative and experimental behavioural ecology and in the neurobiology of memory. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1984, and appointed Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Zoology at Oxford in 1988; he will continue with this post after taking up his role as Chairman of the FSA. He became Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in 1994. He finished his term of office at NERC on 30th September 1999. Sir John serves on the Darwin Advisory Committee, which advises the DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) on the Darwin Initiative to help to meet the UK's obligations under the Biodiversity Convention.

Sir John's appointment as Chairman of the FSA is for four years at a salary of #96,000 for four days work a week. He holds no other public appointments and has not carried out any political activity in the last five years .

Ms. Suzi Leather is currently Chair of the Exeter and District Community NHS Trust, for which she receives a salary of #17,625 a year. She has been active in the NHS Confederation. She is a non-paid member of a number of other organisations: Vice Chair of the Food Ethics Council, Executive Member of the National Heart Forum and a Trustee of the Food Foundation. She is a member of the Foresight Food Chain & Crops for Industry panel of the Office of Science and Technology, and Chair of its Food and Health task group. She was also, until her appointment to the FSA, the consumer member of the board of Assured British Meat. Her salary as Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency will be #30,000 for two days a week. She was formerly on the general committee of the Exeter Labour Party and has canvassed on their behalf or helped at elections within the last five years.

Mr. Geoffrey Podger is a career civil servant, who has worked for the Department of Health since 1982. Before taking up responsibilities in the food area, he was Under-Secretary for Health Promotion. He has been Head of the combined JFSSG of the Department of Health and MAFF since its inception in 1997.

The Secretary of State for Health yesterday made a Commencement Order under Section 42 of the Food Standards Act 1999, which brings into force the provisions of the Act related to the appointment of members of the Agency, the Chief Executive and Directors for Scotland and Wales, and the advisory committees for Scotland and Wales. The functions and powers of the Agency will be brought into force by a later Commencement Order.

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