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Local officials say Brexit could undermine food safety in U.K.

The Local Government Association of the United Kingdom is warning that food safety will be undermined when Brexit begins next year, and continuing forward, if federal authorities don’t take action to ensure uninterrupted access to multinational databases.

The Local Government Association (LGA) represents 415 government entities, including 370 local councils in England and Wales. It is a cross-party organization that works to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government. On Tuesday the association called for food safety and animal health information systems to remain available in England after it leaves the European Union.

Public health concerns are among the issues LGA follows closely. Failure to protect access to the “key intelligence” currently available through Britain’s membership in the European Union would weaken public health protection and work against safe food, the LGA contends.

“Previous food scandals, such as horsemeat, damaged public confidence in food and hit red meat sales in the U.K.,” according to the association. Alerts are regularly sent for pesticides residue, mercury, Salmonella and E. Coli.

Under the European Union, the U.K. has been part of a wide framework of rules and systems “based upon scientific evidence which ensures the traceability of high risk products – notably food, feed and animal products – and provides rapid access to intelligence about contamination of products, helping to build a picture about suspect suppliers.”

Locally, this ensures regulation from council officers through access to vital information; to target their enforcement activity, protect public health and support the economy.

The association argues that exiting the EU without an agreement on access to the information would leave regulators “in limbo” beginning in March 2019 when Britain begins its withdrawal. Also, under the terms of the draft EU-UK withdrawal agreement, access to the databases would be “switched off” after 2020.

“Councils, which help to protect public health through their trading standards, environmental health and port health work, are warning of the increased risk to public health if regulators are not able to access these systems and are calling on the Government and the European Union to ensure that, regardless of what form the final Brexit agreement takes, the UK’s access to these key mechanisms is maintained,” according to a statement from the association.

According to Cllr Kevin Bentley, chairman of the association’s Brexit Taskforce the UK has painful, recent experience of the damage that can be caused when food and feed are compromised.

“If we lose access to these databases, we will lose access to vital intelligence about the origin of food, feed and animal products, and won’t be aware when rapid alerts are issued to the rest of the continent,” Bently said in the association statement. “This will significantly weaken our ability to effectively protect the food system, increasing the risk of a new scandal and undermining public confidence in the food industry.

“After years of funding reductions for trading standards and environmental health, we simply do not have the capacity to increase checks to offset this risk, either at ports or inland, unless this is fully funded. Without additional capacity, there is simply no alternative to continuing to receive and share this type of information.”

Continued access to these EU-wide databases is of vital importance and the British government and the European Union must ensure that it is maintained, Bently said.

Among the association’s points in the Tuesday statement were:

  • Currently the UK is part of a number of key databases that build intelligence and maintain the integrity of food and feed across Europe, most importantly the”Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES).
  • RASFF enables information to be shared efficiently between its members and provides a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to collectively and efficiently.
  • In 2016, a total of 2,993 original notifications were transmitted through the RASFF, of which 28 percent (847) were classified as alert, with the UK the fifth highest in overall notifications. The Top 10 number of notifications, by notifying country, with the number of notifications counted for each combination of hazard/product category/notifying country were:

Hazard Product category    Notifying
country
Notifications
pesticide residues fruits and vegetables Bulgaria 71
aflatoxins nuts, nut products
and seeds
Germany 65
aflatoxins nuts, nut products
and seeds
Netherlands 63
mercury fish and fish products Italy 59
aflatoxins nuts, nut products
and seeds
Italy 52
Salmonella fruits and vegetables United Kingdom 48
aflatoxins nuts, nut products
and seeds
United Kingdom 31
Salmonella poultry meat and
poultry meat products
Netherlands 29
too high count of Escherichia coli bivalve molluscs
and products thereof
Italy 28
high content of caffeine dietetic foods, food
supplements, fortified foods
Germany 24
pesticide residues fruits and vegetables Netherlands 24

TRACES is the European Commission’s multilingual online management tool for all sanitary requirements on intra-EU trade and importation of animals, semen and embryo, food, feed and plants which helps reduce the impact of disease outbreaks and brings a quick response to any sanitary alert, for the better protection of consumers, livestock and plants.

In 2016 there were 35,000 users of TRACES worldwide generating nearly 2 million certificates and official attestations concerning trade within the European Union (EU).

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