Top advisor slams scientific shortfall at FSA

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sir Colin Blackmore warned of a problem with scientific staffing at the FSA
Sir Colin Blackmore warned of a problem with scientific staffing at the FSA

Related tags: Fsa, Food standards agency

A row has erupted about the threat to scientific expertise available within the Food Standards Agency (FSA) caused by government budget cuts, which critics argue have left the agency seriously short of the skills it needs within its science and policy teams.

At its board meeting last month, Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, chairman of the FSA’s General Advisory Committee on Science (GACS), complained of a problem of insufficient scientific staffing levels within the agency. He claimed there were 70 – 75 vacancies important to the support of science within the FSA.

“There’s a problem with staffing​ [within the FSA] and particularly scientific staffing,” ​said Blakemore. While some of the vacancies were a result of “natural wastage”​ the majority were due to budget cuts within the organisation, he claimed. “I hope the FSA will move as quickly as it can to fill these positions.”

Refuted the claims

While Blakemore is not alone in attributing problems at the FSA to cuts in its budget, the FSA itself has refuted the claims.

“Since the year of the horsemeat incident itself​ [2013] through to the end of 2015/16, the FSA’s overall budget will have reduced by £22M,”​ said Andrew Rhodes, the FSA’s chief operations officer, at the meeting.

However, an FSA spokeswoman told Food Manufacture that the agency was currently recruiting for 54 posts, the majority of which were as a result of a restructuring exercise over the summer.

“Of these 54 posts, only 15 are from the science and policy area. We are in the process of filling these vacancies,”​ she said.

The FSA, which has approximately 1,300 members of staff, was confident it could carry out its operational and policy functions by prioritising activity, reshaping teams and using existing resources, she added.

Catherine Brown, chief executive of the FSA, also defended the agency and said: “Clearly, 75​ [vacancies] is not all scientists, but meat inspectors and other roles.”

Refocusing work

Meanwhile, GACS would be refocusing its work on monitoring the scientific rigour of the FSA’s activities, said Blakemore.

GACS, which was set up as an independent organisation to challenge and advise the FSA on how it collects and uses scientific evidence, had worked more closely with the FSA than usual during the horsemeat scandal, said Blakemore.

“For the past year, GACS has been close to the normal processes of the agency,”​ he remarked. “But we need to take a step back and become more aggressive in our commentary of what the agency is doing.”

Related topics: Food Safety

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