Byrn – who holds a PhD in environmental toxicology from University College Cork (UCC), an MSc in aquatic resource management from University of London, a BSc in zoology from UCC and a Higher Diploma in environmental law from the University of Aberystwyth – will step into current chief executive Professor Alan Reilly's shoes in March next year.
The FSAI told us it did not see Byrne’s current food industry position as a problem. Indeed, it said it was not the first time it had recruited someone with an industry background, citing ex chief executive Dr John O’Brien who left the FSAI in 2008. “You can’t have a food safety authority without some people from the industry,” a spokesperson said.
She said this “can’t be a problem”, and reiterated that all senior management and board members signed Declaration of Interests as well as their regular contract terms of employment.
‘We answer to the ministry’
“We’re independent,” the spokesperson said. “The only person we answer to is in the ministry. That’s kind of the ‘big boss’.”
In terms of ‘cutting old ties’ with previous industry colleagues, the spokesperson said that would be a personal process to be considered and undertaken by Byrne. “She knows what her role is now.”
The spokesperson declined to comment on whether her background could be seen as a positive in terms of her ability to see issues from both sides – the regulator and the regulated.
As well as her work with Abbott Nutrition, which began in 2013, Byrne worked in the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as well as with the cabinet of EU commissioner for research, science and innovation Maire Geoghegan-Quinn as a national expert. She also currently chairs the EU’s Joint Programming Initiative ‘A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life’ and the Strategic Advisory Board of the Institute of Food and Health in University College, Dublin.
Breadth of knowledge and expertise
In its statement on the appointment, the FSAI said Dr Byrne would bring an “enormous breadth of knowledge and expertise” to the role.
Chairman of the FSAI board Professor Michael Gibney thanked the outgoing chief executive Professor Reilly for his “outstanding leadership”, something he said contributed to the FSAI’s national and international reputation as a respected regulatory body.
“It is fitting to note that just last month, Ireland was ranked joint first place with Canada out of 16 OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries for its food safety processes and performance, a reflection of Professor Reilly’s contribution and the commitment and professionalism of his team of experts at the FSAI.”
Correction: This article originally stated that the FSAI's last chief executive Professor Alan Reilly worked previous to this role within the food industry. This should have referred to the chief executive before him, Dr John O’Brien who left the FSAI in 2008.