In the news

March 3, 2000

For Oxford don Sir John Krebs, the government's new food czar and chair of a high-profile conference this week on GM food, the transition from an academic institution into government has been smooth and rapid.

Knighted for services to behavioural ecology and noted for his work in the areas of ecology, animal behaviour, environment and conservation, his first major government appointment, in 1994, was as chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council. He left that position last September, just a few months before being controversially picked by the prime minister, Tony Blair, as head of the new Food Standards Agency. On a salary of Pounds 96,000, Sir John will be in charge of a Pounds 125 million budget when the agency becomes fully operational in April.

The choice of Sir John, 55, a fellow of Pembroke College, was greeted with dismay by consumer campaigners, who complained that he had no experience of dealing with their concerns. Animal activists were also furious at his appointment because of a report he wrote suggesting that badgers were the cause of tuberculosis in cattle and recommending a controlled culling of the badger population for further verification. Sir John was forced to confront critics of the report on TV, an experience that is likely to come in more than handy.

Colleagues of Sir John, a Royal Society research professor in Oxford's zoology department, include zoology professor Roy Anderson, suspended pending an investigation by Oxford university, and Sir Robert May, the government's chief scientific adviser.

Sir John, a keen violin player, is the son of Sir Hans Krebs, who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1953 for the discovery of an important cyclical series of biochemical reactions. Named the Krebs cycle in his honour, it is fundamental to the metabolism of animals, plants and many microorganisms.

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