Interview with Our New Mars GFSC Director - Dr. Abigail Stevenson

Introducing Our New Mars GFSC Director

Dr. Abigail Stevenson became the Mars GFSC Director in August 2017. Abigail has more than 25 years of experience working within Mars, Incorporated across a range of roles and locations. She holds a PhD in nutrition and health from the University College London. 

Q&A with Dr. Abigail:

Q1: Although you are new to the Mars Global Food Safety Center you have been with Mars for a while. Tell us a bit about your career with Mars and why you chose to join the GFSC team.

I joined Mars in 1993 as a research technician at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition almost straight from University. At the time I could not believe my good fortune – an exciting job with a very well respected company that enabled me to follow my interest in science and my passion for pets. After joining Mars I was able to continue my education and completed a PhD in nutrition and urinary health in cats with the practical work completed at WALTHAM in collaboration with University College London, guided by my inspirational supervisors Dr. Bill Robertson and Dr. Peter Markwell.

I continued to work in research for a number of years during which time I gained further experience before leading the science communications team at WALTHAM. Here I really discovered my passion for leading a team and for sharing science with others, both within Mars and with our external partners. After 5 years in this role I moved into Corporate Affairs based at the Mars Petcare Head Office in Brussels where I led Technical communications for our Petcare segment for another 5 years. This was a very exciting time to be in Petcare and I was lucky enough be involved in communications supporting the acquisitions of a number of new businesses including the Emergency Veterinary & Specialty Animal Hospital, VCA Inc., Whistle Labs Inc. and Pet Partners. I then started to investigate further opportunities seeking a role that would increase my geographical perspective as well as technical knowledge and people leadership. Hence, China!

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Moving to the GFSC has given me an incredible opportunity to learn and grow. I have only been here for a few months and have already learned so much about the Chinese culture, people leadership and food safety science and technology, although I know I still have so much more to learn. In short, this is Mars, a career with continuous learning and growth opportunities, and one of the reasons why I am as engaged today as I was back in 1993. I have to thank the GFSC team for being so welcoming and helping me settle in. I am inspired by the commitment demonstrated by Mars to really make a difference to the planet through the “Sustainable in a Generation Plan” and I’m very proud to lead a team of amazing Associates focused on nourishing wellbeing and helping farmers thrive through science and technology aimed at improving food safety.

Q2. What do you think are the most significant global food safety challenges of today?

New food safety challenges are emerging constantly. Climate change is affecting the entire food supply chain. We can expect more extreme weather events and changing weather patterns around the globe, all of which affect the food chain and increase food safety risks. Along with e-commerce, a truly global food supply chain, and an ever growing population, there has probably never been more pressure on food production. Yet, the regulatory environment has not kept pace with these challenges and there is still much to do to harmonize food safety management standards around the world to help ensure appropriate food safety governance and control.

Food is a fundamental requirement for life, and access to safe food is essential for health and wellbeing. To help ensure safer food for all, it is vital that food safety challenges are addressed throughout the global food supply chain. At Mars, we believe industry has a crucial role to play in helping all stakeholders in the food supply chain identify risks and work together to create solutions. No one entity can achieve this alone. That’s why we are taking a new approach rooted in knowledge sharing and collaboration, and why we launched the Mars Global Food Safety Center.

Q3: What do you aim to achieve over the next three years?

At the GFSC we have many very talented scientists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions. Their passion for science and drive for new discoveries inspire me every day! The GFSC team aims to generate new knowledge that leads to new solutions to help address food safety challenges of the highest priority. I aim to create an environment that inspires our scientists, and encourages them to be inquisitive and to think beyond the obvious within their work. Through collaboration and building networks together with other experts in related fields we aim to encourage deeper thinking and a broader perspective across the food safety science community. We know we cannot tackle these grand challenges on our own!

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We will continue to focus on conducting robust, original research in critical areas of challenge such as mycotoxin management, pathogen management, and raw material and product authenticity. We believe these are clear priorities for both us and the broader food industry. Over the next 3 years I anticipate significant progress in pathogen management through improved identification methods, and I am confident that vulnerability assessment tools will also become more effective and widely adopted over this timeframe. I also hope that together with our partners we will make progress in development of tools and technologies that equip farmers to more effectively tackle aflatoxin contamination in cereals.

Another area I expect to move forward considerably over the next 3 years is data integration in support of more proactive food safety management. The IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain is one such project, aiming to map the entire makeup of an environment and predict food safety issues based on changes within that environment using technologies such as genome sequencing. This is a highly ambitious project and I look forward to reporting progress in the near future.

Overall, I feel very encouraged to see the collaboration and sharing of information that is happening with the aim of improving food safety for all. However, there is always more to do and through the work of the GFSC in collaboration with our partners and network of stakeholders we will continue to drive our mission, to help ensure access to safe food for all.

Q4: What are you most excited about your work at the GFSC?

I find the Mars purpose and the role of the GFSC very exciting. I am very proud to be part of a company guided by the Five Principles and with strong sense of higher purpose at its core. To lead a team located within a research center that aims to help ensure safer food for all through scientific truth is inspiring. Together with other world leading experts we have such a great opportunity to make a genuine difference to the health of people and to help farmer thrive. 

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                (The Global Understanding of Food Fraud Conference, 2017)

Food safety challenges are complex and I believe that a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach based on a philosophy of open sharing is the best way to tackle these issues. I am excited for the future and look forward to seeing our portfolio of research programs deliver science that supports practical solutions to help address some of the biggest food safety challenges the world faces today.

 

Bob Bakers New Appointment

 Bob

Many of you know the previous Mars GFSC Director Bob Baker. Bob has taken a new role as the Corporate Food Safety Science and Capability Director at Mars, Incorporated. In this role Bob will lead the corporate food safety science strategy for Mars, Incorporated and provides leadership and consultation on food safety capability development and current and future challenges impacting global food security. Congratulations to Bob for this new appointment.