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Food safety in the United Kingdom may take a hit with Brexit

Some experts worry that weakening already overstretched institutions responsible for ensuring food safety in Great Britain will lead to unsafe food as the country prepares to finalize its exit from the European Union.

Brexit means the UK will need a stronger Food Safety Agency, they say, because the country will no longer be able to rely upon on the European Food Safety Authority, according to a report in The Conversation. The UK is scheduled to depart the European Union on March 29, 2019.

The UK’s food safety regime is not working properly and is failing to ensure an acceptably safe food supply, The Conversation says. Confirmed cases of Campylobacter bacteria infections, for example, increased by about 46 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to a government report.

Campylobacter infection, or campylobacteriosis, is an infectious disease caused by Campylobacter bacteria and a common cause of diarrheal illness, sometimes leading to hospitalization. Many cases go undiagnosed and unreported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with Campylobacter infection usually have diarrhea (often bloody), fever and abdominal cramps. The diarrhea may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually start within two to five days after exposure and last about a week. Some infected people do not have any symptoms. In people with weakened immune systems Campylobacter infection can spread to the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening infection.

Since 2014, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said poultry reachers retailers with high levels of the pathogen. That means consumers have a much higher risk of spreading the bacteria to household appliances, hard surfaces such as countertops and cooking utensils. Meanwhile, consumer trust is understandably low, and the food industry is focused on the uncertainties arising from Brexit.

According to Mintel.com, the level of trust consumers have in the food and drink industry is low, with few believing either retailers or manufacturers have complete information on their supply chains. Consumer faith in the role of the state, or official bodies, in guaranteeing the safety of food and drink in the UK is also low. In addition, “best-before” and “use-by” dates are misunderstood and ignored.

The FSA says it wants to improve the way it delivers regulatory controls for food and create a modern, risk-based, proportionate, robust and resilient system.

The current system of regulation has been in place for more than 30 years and has not kept pace with technological change in the food industry, the FSA said in a report this past summer. Further, it said, the FSA is not flexible enough to adapt to the changing environment.

For the UK to continue to be a strong, credible player in the global food economy, the regulatory regime needs to keep pace with rapid changes in that economy. Leaving the EU will change patterns of food production, trade and consumption, emphasizing the need for a flexible and responsive regulatory system, FSA officials have said.

The agency has developed a blueprint and is testing it, involving everyone working in food – from consumer groups to private assurance scheme owners, local authorities to food businesses of all sizes, food regulators in other countries to non-food regulators in the UK. Further, it said, it has done feasibility studies to test ideas and approaches, and learned from them.

FSA promised to recognize businesses doing the right thing for consumers and take action against those that do not.

The Conversation report said the FSA plans to change who conducts food safety inspections in the UK and transfer responsibility for many food safety inspections and audits from the public sector to private commercial assurance providers, which, it says, will not primarily serve the public interest but rather will focus on their food industry clients’ interests, creating conflicts of interests between commercial inspectors and the consuming public.

Just when the public needs a stronger body to ensure that standards are not weakened in future trade deals, the FSA and local authorities’ enforcement services are being undermined, it says.

And, it says there are no plans to increase the FSA budget to meet its new responsibilities.

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