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From: TSS ()
Subject: Sir John Krebs interview Leaving a legacy of openness, accountability and transparency
Date: May 10, 2005 at 11:52 am PST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Sir John Krebs interview Leaving a legacy of openness, accountability and transparency
Date: Mon, 9 May 2005 17:07:09 -0500
From: "Terry S. Singeltary Sr."
Reply-To: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

##################### Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy #####################

Sir John Krebs interview
Sir John Krebs, who stepped down from
his post as Chair of the Food Standards
Agency last month, leaves a considerable
legacy in terms of the FSAs achievements.
A fall in foodborne illnesses, reductions
in the salt content in soups and some
processed foods, a continuing drop in the
number of BSE cases in the UK, and
acceptance of the Agencys proposed
move to BSE testing are a few of the
many examples worthy of mention.
To those could be added the rise in
consumer trust in food safety, the high
public recognition factor for the Agency
and the launch of the nationwide debate
on the promotion of foods to children.
Obviously weve made huge progress
on specific issues, says Sir John. But
overarching all of those I would say that
the greatest individual achievement of the
Agency would be its commitment to
openness and to more honest
communication of risk and uncertainty.
Yet it was only following the Agencys
establishment five years ago, in 2000, that
Sir John, its founding Chair, was able to
say for the first time: Never again will
vital information on food safety risks be
withheld from the public.
Sir John, who is stepping down from
his position this month to take up post as
Principal of Jesus College Oxford, feels
that the FSA has helped rebuild public trust
in food safety by being completely
transparent in all its dealings and being
open in its advice on risk and uncertainty.
He mentions as an example BSE  one of
the main issues that led to the establishment
of the Agency. The Agencys Consumer
Attitudes Survey, which was published
last month, suggests that concern about
BSE has, for example, fallen from 66% in
2000 to 44% in 2004.
Its perhaps a reflection of the true
state of affairs, which is that BSE in
cattle has gone steadily down, so now,
compared with the peak of the BSE crisis
where there were 37,000 new cases a
year, were down to a few hundred  a
trickle compared with the peak.
If you look at the way that the media
has represented the BSE issues that we
have been dealing with recently, notably
the proposed change from the Over
Thirty Months Rule to BSE testing and
the discovery of BSE in a French goat
and possibly in a Scottish goat, those
have generally been presented in factual,
balanced ways.
I would like to think that our way of
communicating  our transparency and
honesty about risk and uncertainty  has
helped. I feel it has built a level of
confidence that we are not just stitching
up deals in a smoke-filled room and then
producing a magic answer, but that we are
Leaving a legacy of openness,
accountability and transparency
One example of the Agencys openness was its decision to inform the
public of the possible risk that BSE might be present in sheep meat
Sir John Krebs, who chaired the Food Standards Agency from its inception
in 2000 until last month
when he stood down, talks to FSA Newsabout his experiences over the past
five years and the
progress the Agency has been making in re-establishing public confidence
in food safety

actually being very open and bringing
people with us as we develop our policy.
This is not to say that a crisis similar to
the BSE crisis could not happen again in
the UK, despite the changes in food
safety that have taken place over the past
decade, he says.
Animal diseases like BSE evolve all the
time, and they could evolve into
something that is dangerous to humans.
Thats just nature. But what we can
guarantee is that if there were another
BSE-like crisis we would handle it in a
very different way.
International comparisons also suggest
that public trust in food safety in general
in the UK is generally good.
I was very struck by a Norwegian
study that was published last year that
looked at half a dozen EU Member States
and public confidence in food safety, and
the UK came out highest of that
comparator group, he says. You probably
wouldnt have seen that ten years ago, so
I think there has been a shift.
According to the Agencys Consumer
Attitude Survey, salt  rather than BSE 
is now the top concern for consumers,
and sugar and fat are also in the top five
food issues.
Sir John feels that the Agencys public
education campaign based on Sid the
Slug has undoubtedly had an impact in
raising salt awareness.
Public awareness of the dangers of
consuming too much salt is fairly high,
and claimed behaviour-change  with
more consumers saying they are looking
at labels and trying to eat less salt  is
also fairly high. I think that what we
need to do is to build on that good start
and keep a sustained effort at public
education, he says.
Another reason for peoples increased
awareness of the nutritional aspects of
their diet is that their worries about food
have shifted, partly because they are
more confident about food safety.
The recent Consumer Attitudes Survey
suggests that they are now a bit more
confident about the safety of food, and
place more of an emphasis on healthy
eating, and choosing a good diet, he says.
Over the past two years the Agency has
been working with food manufacturers in
an attempt to achieve real reductions in
salt levels in processed foods.
A key part of this has been ensuring that
manufacturers are on board as part of,
rather than just the target of, the campaign,
which in the eyes of some consumer
groups has left the Agency open to
charges of being too close to industry.
I think we have seen a huge shift in the
attitude of the food industry in the past
two years, Sir John says. I can
remember when we first started our
series of meetings with different parts of
the food industry, just over two years
ago, there was a general lack of
knowledge that salt was a potential risk
factor, a lack of interest in many parts of
the food industry in doing anything
about it. What we are now seeing is
increasingly the food industry coming
forward with long-term plans to meet the
FSAs salt model targets by 2010.
I think that we have to concentrate on
driving public demand to put additional
pressure on the food industry. Thats why
campaigns like Sid the Slug, like the
survey work we do  which reports the
salt content of food  are important.
They are providing the consumer pull
to match the industry push.
But Sir John firmly rejects the notion
that the Agency is not distant enough
from industry. When you talk to the
food industry they say that we are too
close to the consumer groups, and that
suggests to me that we are probably
getting it about right.
Clearly, we want to engage with, and
Sir John Krebs interview
listen to, all of our different stakeholders
 whether they are food industry,
enforcement people, health professionals,
consumer groups, green groups or others.
What we are really committed to is being
evidence-based and taking our own
independent stance based on the evidence
as we see it and as it has been analysed
Sir John also explained why the Agency
has increased its focus on the wider
nutritional aspects of food.
Weve had nutrition in our remit from
the very beginning, he explains. What
we have done, I think, is to recognise the
importance of the issue in terms of public
health. Poor diet, and the health
consequences such as cardiovascular
disease and cancer, is a bigger risk than
some of the more traditional food risks.
Sir John feels that this means he is
stepping down from his post as Chair of
the Agency at a time when the challenges
faced by it are different to those it faced
five years ago.
Baroness Brenda Dean, in her recently
published independent review of the
Agencys efficiency (see page 3), said that
because expectations of the Agency are
high, the next five years is going to be
tougher than the first five.
My successor, Deirdre Hutton (see
page 1), will be entering into an
environment in which there are very high
expectations of the Agency. But I would
say that I have absolute confidence that
the staff of the Agency, working with the
Board, are capable of meeting these
expectations and more.
I feel very privileged to have worked
with a fantastic group of colleagues, and
although I have often appeared as the
media face of the Agency, what has been
achieved has been as a result of
Everybody is committed to the success
of the Agency. Thats been one of the
great things about working here. People
are all absolutely committed to the
same agenda.
I think the most important thing that
weve done has been to establish
ourselves as leaders in the openness
and transparency agenda. One key
stepping stone in that was the decision
to hold the Board meetings in public.
This sent a very important signal at
the beginning that we were a different
kind of Government department. It
now seems so familiar that its hard to
recollect what a radical step it was to
actually commit to deciding and
discussing on policy in public as
opposed to in private.
Alongside that, the culture of
discussing our ideas with a whole
range of interested groups before we
formulated them fully  bringing
stakeholders into the process early on
 has been a very important step.
Another important stepping stone
has been developing effective ways of
communicating risk and uncertainty. I
think the very first example of that
was when we raised the issue of the
possible risk of BSE in sheep.
We were, in a way, trying to
completely invert the normal
assumption. The normal assumption
would be that we put this to the
scientific experts, they worked out the
answer and here it is. We instead
were saying, when you put this to the
scientific experts, their one sentence
answer was: We dont know.
Of course we have always tied that
uncertainty to our advice. Weve
always said: There is uncertainty,
here is our advice in the meantime,
and this is what we are doing to
reduce the uncertainty.
The Food Standards Agencys decision to be completely open and
transparent when making policy decisions has
resulted in its ground-breaking approach of holding Board meetings in
public (above) and enabling
stakeholders and members of the public to question the Board directly in
open session (below) ...snip...end


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