Institute of Food Research
REVIEW OF SCIENCE IN FSA
Response from the Institute of Food Research
The Institute of Food Research is sponsored by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences
Research Council. Its vision is to be a world-leading contributor to harnessing food for
health and controlling food-related disease. IFR is a not-for-profit company with charitable
status. It is sponsored by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council. IFR is
the UK’s only integrated basic science provider focused on food. IFR is an FSA contractor.
IFR’s response to the FSA review is corporate, with comments gathered in feedback from a
number of scientists. In responding we have addressed the items laid out in the review.
1. Develop a clear, overall science strategy Departments should take a strategic
approach to setting R&D budgets, and should publish science (or evidence) and
innovation strategies that set out the broad framework within which research
programmes and other science-related activities are carried out. This is an important
step in linking research and development to the effective delivery of a department’s
objectives and show how value for money is achieved.
IFR believes that the Agency’s R&D budget is not adequate to allow it to address key,
fundamental scientific questions with the rigour that should be applied. The value of the
science to the Agency’s decision-making should be the leading driver and ‘value-for-money’
should not be allowed to dominate decision making if this means lower quality evidence.
2. Horizon scan – to identify future science-related issues Horizon scanning is defined
as the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future
developments, which are at the margins of current thinking and planning. Horizon
scanning may explore novel and unexpected issues, as well as persistent problems or
trends. Departments should regularly undertake horizon scanning to improve the
robustness of their evidence base and policies.
Horizon scanning is weak. The FSA tends to focus too much on existing issues.
3. Review and harness existing science and identify gaps and opportunities for
future research To demonstrate value for money and effective use of resources,
departments should have in place effective arrangements for deciding what current or
potential science could benefit the department’s delivery of its objectives and hence
whether new research is needed or where it would best be targeted. In particular,
departments should actively manage existing knowledge, synthesise existing research,
and work with Other Government Departments (OGDs) and the research bases in the
UK and internationally.
Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich NR4 7UA, UK
www.ifr.ac.uk Tel: +44(0) 1603 255000 GTN 6626 5000 Fax: +44 (0)1603 507723
IFR believes that on occasion, priority setting not done in a sufficiently rigorous manner.
The FSA appears to be putting most of its funds into "short-term fixes" or surveys. There is
insufficient longer term underpinning fundamental science. The result of this is an eroding
of scientific expertise in UK centres of excellence.
IFR believes that reducing its funding for fundamental scientific research is a retrograde
step, but recognises the multiple demands on Agency spend.
IFR feels that on occasion, territorial boundaries between Departments and the Agency
have the potential to interfere with the prosecution of the best science to address key
There is potential for FSA to address its strategic needs and to leverage additional
resource to pursue them by investigating greater co-funding with others. This could be a
win:win where the strategic needs addressed provide evidence of socioeconomic impact
for a potential co-funder such as BBSRC.
4. Commission and manage new science [and]
5. Ensure the quality and relevance of the science they carry out and sponsor As
part of the drive for evidence-based policy and improved service delivery the
Government needs to use, and be seen to use, high quality science and the most
appropriate new technologies. Science programmes funded by Government
departments make a very important contribution to policy formulation. Even though the
outcomes of the science itself cannot always be predicted, departments must be able to
commission the right science, assess its quality, and use it effectively. The credibility of
departmental policy-making generally will be undermined if individual policies are
perceived to be based on poor, or the wrong science.
Studies with human subjects are expensive and the numbers of such studies
commissioned by external sponsors is falling. We believe that this is short-sighted, as
decision-making needs to be based on work with humans rather than models.
6. Use science and scientific advice Departments need scientific advice to underpin
their policy making and regulatory activities. Such advice can be provided by external
or internal experts, and / or informed by the output of research programmes
commissioned by the department. There needs to be an effective communications
bridge between the experts and the policy makers.
At the outset of FSA, we understand that FSA were not in a position to receive advice from
experts who had industry funding within their portfolio. We are glad that this changed.
7. Publish results and debate their findings and implications openly In accordance
with the Freedom of Information Act1and to ensure robust interpretation of scientific
findings and their policy implications, departments should publish and openly debate
We feel the Agency has a good record of openness. The FSA has never been unhelpful
when we have sought to publicise the results of FSA-funded work for our own knowledge
8. Share, transfer and manage knowledge2 Knowledge transfer should be treated by
departments as a strategic goal and enjoy high-level focus.
See 7 above. However, the reports on scientific papers in FSA News are sometimes too
specialised for sectors of the stakeholder audience.
9. Follow the Guidelines on Scientific advice and policy making3 and the Code of
Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees4 The Guidelines on Scientific Advice
and Policy Making provides high-level high level guidance and were used in formulating
these ten key criteria for the Science Reviews. Its key messages are that departments
a. think ahead and identify early the issues on which they need scientific advice; get a
wide range of advice from the best sources, particularly where there is scientific
b. publish the scientific advice and all relevant papers.
The purpose of the Code of Practice is to provide more detailed guidance
specifically focused on the operation of scientific advisory committees and their
relationship with Government and to help them translate the principles in the
Guidelines into day-to-day practice.
IFR scientists assist Advisory Committees and IFR believes its scientists are of the calibre
to provide more support to Agency decision-making.
10. Use, maintain and develop scientific expertise (including both capacity and
capability building) Whether a department has its own dedicated research unit, or
commissions work from outside organisations, it needs to ensure it has long-term
access to experienced scientists who are able to understand and interpret issues at the
science-policy interface, taking into account the full range of scientific opinion as
IFR feels that FSA does not necessarily maximise the benefit which could accrue by linking
closely with a small cadre of key contractors, as we suggested when the Agency was first
determining it strategies.
Including exploitation of intellectual property where appropriate.
Office of Science and Technology. Guidelines 2005: Scientific advice and policy making, October 2005
Office of Science and Technology. Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, December 2001