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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Strengthening food security policy through the role of Chief Scientific Adviser

Professor Guy Poppy’s world-leading body of research on risk assessment and food security, undertaken at the University of Southampton, led him to be appointed to the new role of Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standard Agency (FSA) in 2014. His position enabled him to apply his research on food systems, genetically modified crops and antimicrobial resistance directly to policy, with benefits for the FSA, the food industry and public health.

Professor Guy Poppy

Context

Professor Guy Poppy was an early advocate of a ‘systems approach’ to food security – that is, to increase food security in a sustainable, climate-resilient way, while protecting human health and conserving biodiversity.

This included fundamental research on the environmental and health risks of genetically modified (GM) crops, and vital work to combat antimicrobial resistance due to the use of antibiotics for crop protection.

This, together with the international focus of his research, was key to Poppy’s appointment as inaugural Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the FSA, at a time when the FSA was looking to embrace new aspects of global science broader than their traditional microbiological focus.

Research challenge

Poppy’s research alongside his FSA role aligned with the challenges that the FSA was seeking to address, with his systems approach directly informing the FSA’s horizon scanning for the emergence of disease in animals and plants.

His worked included the analysis of meat trade flows to and from the UK and found that the US, New Zealand, Canada and Australia had the capacity to meet the UK’s demand for meat in the event that imports from the EU were disrupted as a result of Brexit.

To devise effective food safety policies, Poppy investigated the efficacy of the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, confirming that low hygiene ratings were associated with higher microbiological contamination and high hygiene ratings were associated with lower contamination.

Embedding a systems approach to food security within UK Government policymaking

Poppy’s systems approach made significant contributions to restructuring the scientific advisory functions of the FSA, including creating the FSA Science Council, an independent expert committee providing strategic insight and advice on the FSA’s use of science.

Poppy also repositioned the FSA’s scientific advisory committees to be more agile for new food risks that arise, resulting in FSA submissions being more evidence-based than before.

Shaping the UK’s food policy response to Brexit

Poppy’s research on post-Brexit meat supplies has influenced resilience planning and shaped a risk analysis system that the UK can rely on outside of the EU.

Additionally, he played an active role in developing the UK’s new Advisory Forum on Food and Feed, to replace the risk assessment programme by the European Food Standards Agency.

Reducing food industry use of antibiotics in order to address antimicrobial resistance

Poppy’s research on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in crops was successfully translated to help reduce the food industry’s use of antibiotics in animals. He provided the first evidence of AMR levels in campylobacter in broiler chickens, and played an instrumental role in bridging disagreements between the medical and agricultural sectors.

Poppy’s research fed into Lord Jim O’Neill’s 2016 review on AMR, and contributed to the reduction by the FSA of antibiotic use in the primary production sector. Sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals fell by 53 per cent over 2014-2018.

Improving communication of food safety and risk

Campylobacter, the leading cause of food poisoning in the UK, costs the economy £1bn a year. The need to reduce foodborne illness led to the introduction of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in 2012, designed to help consumers choose where to eat out or shop for food.

The FHRS sticker display is mandatory by law in Wales and Northern Ireland, but voluntary in England. Poppy’s research on its efficacy provided the FSA with the evidence for pushing forward with the final hurdle for persuading the Government to legislate FHRS mandatory display in England.

In a major incident in August 2017, millions of eggs were pulled from supermarkets across Europe after the discovery that some had been contaminated with fipronil. Poppy produced an evidence-based response with appropriate messages for the public, meaning millions of food products were kept in UK food businesses. This ensured a major public health incident was avoided without significant economic cost.

Public recognition of service

Poppy was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to Food Safety and Security.

FSA Explains: Arsenic in rice

 

 

 

 

 

FSA Explains: Antimicrobial resistance

Key Publications

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