Three suggestions have been made to improve a food safety framework that sets out how things will work in the United Kingdom now that it has left the European Union.
The Common Framework Scrutiny Committee made the recommendations in a letter to Emily Miles, CEO of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), about the Food and Feed Safety and Hygiene (FFSH) Provisional Framework, which covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Rules in the latter country will be different because of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which means goods sold there will follow EU rules for food labelling, composition and standards.
The House of Lords committee started looking at the framework summary in October and formally scrutinized the provisional framework when it was published in late November. It was developed with the FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS).
The first recommendation was the commitment to publish an annual review report, which was mentioned in letters between the FSA and the committee, but not in the framework.
Defining a “routine” change
Another proposal was that the FSA should assess the degree of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and the associated costs for businesses. This should involve consultation with those in Northern Ireland on which food safety changes are considered “routine.”
In the letter from Elizabeth Andrews, chair of the committee, to the FSA, she said there has been insufficient transparency and consultation on the framework’s effect on Northern Ireland and its relationship with the UK.
“We are concerned that the decision that the FSA and FSS will not conduct analysis on ‘routine’ food safety changes under the Northern Ireland Protocol could have profound cumulative implications for business in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It is unclear how something will be classified as a ‘routine’ change and what process there will be for reaching these decisions, including any external consultation,” she wrote.
“We are deeply concerned by the suggestion that “the UK does not have the resources” to consider each of these changes and we believe that more resources should be committed to this area. We are concerned that the costs of the analysis could be exceeded by the long-term costs of divergence to businesses across the UK.”
The final idea was that the framework should state when powers will be used in the UK Internal Market Act to provide exemptions from the market access principles in areas of previous flexibility under EU law and possible future divergence.
In an earlier letter from Miles to the committee, she said while routine changes to EU food safety law, which will apply in Northern Ireland, will be monitored, they will not be considered through the risk analysis process as the UK does not have the resources and may not have access to necessary data.
The EU-UK trade agreement does not provide the UK with access to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) but it does ensure exchange of food safety information which the FSA can then use as part of its incident detection and management system, according to Miles.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has also been looking at the framework and recently held a call for evidence on it. Only written evidence from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has been published by the House of Commons committee.
The trade association for food and drink manufacturing said it was unclear how the Common Framework will operate practically if Northern Ireland’s agri-food regulatory system starts to diverge from the UK’s over time as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We would particularly welcome further clarity on how the framework will operate in the context of the interaction with the EU’s risk analysis process for food and feed,” said FDF.
Businesses applying for pre-market approvals and re-authorizations for the UK market will submit applications through a single process.
“We nevertheless note that that businesses applying for pre-market approvals and re-authorizations for the Northern Ireland market will need to submit applications to the relevant body as set out in EU legislation. This could represent a significant barrier for food businesses wishing to place specifically regulated food and drink products on the UK market, who do not export to EU member states and would therefore not otherwise need separate EU approval or authorization.”
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