13 January 2000
‘GM food is safe’ — Krebs

By FWi staff

THE governments new Food Standards Agency chief has said he believes genetically modified food currently on sale is safe

But Professor Sir John Krebs, who was appointed yesterday (Wednesday), denied his personal view would affect his role overseeing the nations food safety.

As agency chairman, he 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.

Speaking on the BBC 2 Newsnight programme, Sir John said he accepted corn and soya already on the market “are as safe as their non-GM counterparts”.

Oxford University zoologist Sir John said he felt the safety of GM products should be a matter of consumer choice.

He told the BBC: “Im the chairman, but there is a board, and these are not necessarily the views of the board.

“The board is going to work on the basis of scientific evidence, on the basis of other kinds of input, to come to a balanced judgement.

“Once Im chairman of the agency, Ill be telling you what the agencys view is, which may be different from mine.”

Sir John responded to criticism that his lack of experience in consumer affairs and food policy could hinder the agencys effectiveness.

The Consumers Association said the new 96,000-a-year job should have gone to someone with a strong interest in consumer protection.

And Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames Valley University suggested the appointment of Sir John was “bizarre”.

But Sir John, a Royal Society research professor, insisted his lack of experience is a plus for the job, as it would make it easier for him to introduce the fresh approach the agency would seek to provide.

“What I have as an advantage is that I come with no baggage. I am not from the food industry,” he said.

“I dont have a background in nutrition or consumer affairs.

“But what I do have is a background is in science, in evaluation of scientific evidence, an important part of the agencys work, and in the communication of science.”

Sir John acknowledged that the agency faced a significant challenge restoring consumer confidence in food safety at a “low ebb” in the wake of the BSE crisis and E coli outbreaks.

But he said the agency was “the beginning of a new era for the consumer.

“For the first time, you have got an agency that is going to be put the consumer first, that is going to be completely open in its operation, and is at arms length from government.”

Sir John is best known for recommending the governments controversial badger cull, aimed at discovering whether the animals pass tuberculosis to cattle.

The cull has been criticised by farmers, who say ministers should do more to prevent bovine TB, which has spread to areas free from the disease for 40 years.

Sir Johns deputy chairman at the 125 million body, will be Suzi Leather, chairman of the Exeter and District Community NHS Trust.

Ms Leather, who will receive 30,000 a year for the two-day-a-week job, has 20 years experience in consumer representation.

Mr Geoffrey Podger, head of the Ministry of Agricultures Joint Food Safety and Standards committee, has been named as the agencys chief executive. He will receive up to 90,000 a year.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said the team would bring “a sound understanding” of the issues.