Some academics have argued an “additional, unnecessary risk” is being created by the Food Standards Agency’s decision to continue major reform of UK food safety regulation during the Brexit negotiations.

One part of the briefing paper looks at the significance of the Regulating Our Future reforms.

The reform program is intended to modify how food is regulated in the United Kingdom, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Implementation of some of the program is to be before March, 30, 2019 – the date when the UK will leave the European Union.

The report calls on the FSA to provide clarity and evidence for ROF and where they are not available, then proposals should be modified or suspended at least until after Brexit. It was written by Professor Tim Lang, Professor Erik Millstone of Sussex, Tony Lewis of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, and Professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff.

“The FSA’s ROF proposals could potentially weaken food standards in the UK at the very time that the UK needs to demonstrate to the world that it has and maintains rigorous standards,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, the FSA’s plans risk undermining the ability of UK producers to sell their products to the EU after Brexit, as the FSA is still to demonstrate how it intends to ensure that its proposals meet the regulatory requirements for countries from which foodstuffs can be imported into the EU.”

The report called for clarity from the FSA on costs of the current and proposed systems to industry, the agency and local authorities; as well as anticipated savings that ROF might provide.

“It is vital, in the context of negotiating and enacting Brexit, that the FSA, and the UK government more generally, avoid any decisions, proposals or actions that could adversely affect food safety standards in the UK or the reputation of the UK’s food supply,” Millstone said.

The FSA told Food Safety News: “We are absolutely clear that the food regulation changes we are proposing as part of the Regulating Our Future programme will strengthen the current food safety and standards regime.”

The academics said a “careless” Brexit poses significant risks to food that flows into and out of the UK. The report says the government recognizes the serious consequences because it is making contingency plans to suspend food regulations in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Professor Lang said this is risky but could also be seen as sensible emergency planning.

“Consumers would rightly wonder who was guaranteeing the safety and quality of the imported food they were buying. Criminals would be alerted to opportunities for food fraud. And the move would send negative signals to the EU, at a delicate time in Brexit negotiations. It could make the UK’s third country status more problematic for exports,” Lang said.

The report also welcomed the Chequers Statement and Brexit white paper released earlier this month recognizing the importance of agri-food to Brexit, but said both documents have weaknesses. Specifically, government proposing close alignment with the EU for farming and manufacturing but not for retail or food service.

The government’s white paper provided more information on the future relationship between the UK and EU.

Ian Wright, Food and Drink Federation chief executive, said there needs to be an understanding on how the common rulebook will work in practice.

“Businesses and consumers urgently need clarity and confidence in the process for both following and deviating from EU rules. It is welcome that the UK will seek to participate and influence EU technical committees and have access to RASFF, but many questions still remain around our valued relationship with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),” Wright said.

The FDF is an organization that represents and advises UK food and drink manufacturers. FoodDrinkEurope, a group representing Europe’s food and drink manufacturing industry, said it was “concerned” that the white paper made no explicit reference to UK participation in EFSA.

“Continued EU27-UK cooperation would deliver the best outcomes in terms of risk assessment and the practical work of food and veterinary risk managers, as they ensure effective and timely prevention measures to ensure the safety of consumers in the EU27 and the UK alike.”

In June 2016, UK voters decided to leave the EU in a referendum marked by a “yes” vote of 51.9 percent with a turnout of 72.2 percent.

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