‘EU exit is going to put us right into the spotlight’: Food Standards Agency chief Emily Miles looks ahead

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Emily Miles Food Standards Agency chief executive

By Civil Service World

23 Dec 2020


What are you proudest of your department or agency achieving in 2020?

So much: Our frontline staff in abattoirs and other meat plants have demonstrated unswerving commitment as #foodheroes; We were the first regulator in the world to complete a scientific risk assessment showing that it was highly unlikely you could catch Covid-19 from food and food packaging; Our award-winning ‘Here to Help’ campaign helped businesses reopen safely after lockdown; and we’ve done so much work to prepare for the end of EU transition. I’m also proud that public trust in the FSA remains high: we are among the top 10 most reputable public sector organisations.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

Feeling like I didn’t have enough ways to say thank you or express my admiration for what the FSA and the civil service and the whole public sector were doing. We often get knocked. But my goodness look at what we’ve done for the country this year. It makes me proud to be a civil servant.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

Three: new EU responsibilities, local authorities being short of resource in their food teams, and the need to regulate the most influential food businesses – especially the digital platforms – better. To illustrate the first: we will be advising ministers on whether to authorise new food products for sale in our domestic markets, instead of the EU. You can tell from the food standards debate that this is going to put us right into the spotlight. But in all of the three challenges, we’ll be putting the consumer interest above all others, to make sure that food can be trusted.

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

I’m hoping for some socially-distanced outside carol singing, I’m loving our FSA virtual ‘wellbeing’ advent calendar, and I’m collecting games to play, and fun questions to ask, on Zoom, with colleagues.


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