Susan Jebb HFSS Conference FSA

Professor Susan Jebb

FSA boss Susan Jebb has made a u-turn on her decision to step down, with Labour ministers now considering whether to hand her a long-term extension as they ponder calls for a shake-up of the body.

Professor Jebb’s three-year term at the helm was due to come to an end on 30 June, after which she had been expected to concentrate on her role as a leading scientist on obesity research. However, this week she revealed ministers under the previous government had asked her to stay on in the role.

Jebb said there had been insufficient time before the election to complete the process of extending her term, but a temporary extension had now been agreed to allow time for consideration by new ministers, headed by Labour health secretary Wes Streeting.

Jebb started as FSA boss in July 2021, having previously chaired the cross-government expert advisory group on obesity from 2007 to 2011 and the ill-fated Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network, set up under the Tory-led coalition, from 2011 to 2015.

Jebb’s original appointment at the FSA prompted speculation the body could take a more prominent role in public health, as it did under the previous Labour government, following the winding up of Public Health England (PHE).

While the recent e coli scandal has seen the FSA’s food safety role in the spotlght again, there have also been calls from leading health experts for the body to oversee a public health remit under the new government. Influential nudge unit Nesta has called for it to be put in charge of overseeing new mandatory health targets for the UK’s 11 leading food retailers.

Jebb, who despite her RD role later became a supporter of mandatory regulation of the industry to tackle obesity, is seen by some as an ideal candidate to take on such a role.

Her time at the FSA has seen it embark on a massive shake-up of local authority food safety inspections amid major cutbacks to frontline staffing levels, which she had been increasingly critical of.

In November she warned the future of the UK’s food safety was being put at risk from “critical” shortages of enforcement staff. She also said a huge backlog of work piled up by cash-strapped local authorities during Brexit and the pandemic had left them unable to properly conduct checks on food companies.

“It remains a huge privilege to be the chair of such a fantastic organisation, and I am happy to remain as FSA chair at this important time,” said Jebb. “I am extremely grateful to colleagues at the University of Oxford whose support has made this possible.”