What’s going to happen after food safety in the United Kingdom is separated by Brexit from the European Food Safety Authority’s mothership in Parma, Italy?
“Along with the EU (European Union) Exit, changing the way food businesses are regulated is one of our two key priorities for the years ahead,” says Heather Hancock, chairman of Britain’s Food Standards Agency. She has just published FSA’s plans for changing food regulation in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The document is titled: “Regulating Our Future — Why food regulation needs to change and how we are going to do it.”
“The case for changing the food regulation system is strong,” says Hancock. “We need to reform the way we regulate to keep up the pace of change in the global food economy: in what we eat, where we consume it, how it reaches us.
“We need a modern, flexible and responsive regulatory system. It is important that we act now, rather than wait for the system to falter, risking damaging consequences for public health and for trust in food. These reform plans are given extra momentum as the UK leaves the EU, a step that will adjust patterns of food production, trade and consumption.”
Hancock said the plan is the result of 18 months’ debate and discussion with all the stakeholders, including businesses big and small, local authorities, third-party assurers and consumers. “We have developed the blueprint through open policy making, maintaining our principles of openness and transparency to give the public confidence in food safety and standards,” Hancock said in her announcement.
“At the heart of our plans is an enhanced system of registration for all food businesses, on the basis of which we will apply proportionate, risk-based controls,” the FSA chairman said.
“We want the outcomes from these changes to be a more robust, sustainable regulatory regime, one that sees standards improve in risky businesses, reduces the administrative burden for businesses that demonstrate they are compliant with food law, and sees effective enforcement action against food businesses that fail to fulfill their obligations.”
Hancock said the new regulatory approach means big changes for the FSA, including strengthening oversight of all the bodies involved in inspecting and assuring food businesses.
“We want to improve relationships with industry, bring a more commercially astute understanding onto our regulatory decisions, and above all ensure that the stringent and robust standards we set help food businesses fulfill their responsibility to produce food that is safe and what it says it is,” she said.
The paper details the changes the FSA wants to make to build a modern, risk-based, proportionate, robust and resilient system. Among these are:
• An enhanced system of registration for businesses, which will mean securing better information on all businesses so that we can better identify and manage risk across the food chain. Knowing more about a food business will enable us to make better judgments about regulating it. We want to create a hostile environment for those businesses that don’t proactively register.
• Segmenting businesses in a better way using a range of risk indicators based on wider information about the business, including the information gathered at the point of registration and from other sources.
• FSA wants to be confident that businesses are doing the right thing and we will introduce more options for how they prove it. Depending on how robust the information that businesses share is, including their past performance, it will set the frequency and type of inspection activity they face. This means businesses with a good history of compliance will face a lower burden from regulation, and free up local authority resources to target the businesses that present the greatest risk to public health.
• FSA will remain committed to its “successful and trusted” Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. It will continue to ensure the scheme is sustainable and display becomes mandatory in England as it is in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Responding to emerging risks
Hancock said the agency has concluded that it’s “essential” that it act now “to address the risks in our current regulatory approach.”
“Being proactive, rather than waiting for a crisis, is the responsible approach,” she said. “ We want to ensure that food regulation in the future is fit for purpose, anticipates and responds to new, emerging risks, and uses new technology and data to evidence that food businesses are fulfilling their obligations for food to be safe and authentic.”
Hancock said she recognizes that change brings uncertainty and causes concern for some.
“We have the time and skills to work together on the details, continuing to try out options and learn from tests, so that when the fully reformed system is in place after 2020, we can all be confident that it is robust, sustainable, and delivers the benefits that the public and business rightly expect,” she said.