The FSA's chief executive Jon Bell has announced that he will be leaving the UK agency at the end of his contract in early April 2006.
Bell, who joined the agency on its formation in 2000 following a 25-year career in MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food), has overseen the development of an organisation that, despite some criticism, has become a model of food safety management.
During the 1980s and 1990s a series of food scares, culminating in the BSE crisis, badly damaged public confidence in the United Kingdom's food supply. The government set up the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a radical response to the climate of confusion and suspicion surrounding the handling of food safety and standards issues.
Indeed, Bell recently used the FSA's handling of the BSE crisis as an example of the agency's approach to food safety. Speaking at the Society of Food Hygiene Technology Annual Lecture in London's Millennium Mayfair Hotel recently, he underlined the importance of balancing public fears and actual risk.
The agency's approach to the BSE review from the start, said Bell, has been to make sure that actual risks and the level of public acceptability of the risk were both taken fully into consideration. This approach has now led to the abandonment of the OTM (Over Thirty Months) regime, because it was felt to be no longer proportionate now that cattle can be tested for infection at the time of slaughter.
"The latest figures show there were 90 new clinical cases of BSE in cattle in Britain in 2004, compared with nearly 2,000 in the year 2000 and over 37,000 cases at the peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s," said Bell.
Effective action and difficult decision-making in such cases is possible, believes Bell, because the FSA remains an independent public protection body governed by a board appointed to act in the public interest. All of the FSA's advice and information is published free of political influence.
"Jon has made an enormous contribution to the setting up and development of the Agency over nearly six years," said FSA chair Deirdre Hutton.
"I am very grateful to him for that contribution, as I know are colleagues and many stakeholders."
For his part, Bell said recently that he felt "extremely privileged to have been able to help establish the FSA and to have been asked to lead it through its second phase of development".
Arrangements are being put in place to recruit a successor.