Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has warned of major food safety and standards risks if the United Kingdom scraps certain European rules.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill covers more than 2,400 pieces of EU legislation. These regulations were kept in UK law at the end of the Brexit transition period.

The Bill includes a date by which all remaining retained EU Law will either be replaced, repealed, or integrated into UK domestic law. This date, at the end of 2023, may be extended for some pieces of retained EU law until 2026. The move means the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will be replaced and changes to fisheries.

Scottish officials said it risks removing restrictions on the use of treatments for meat, such as chlorine washes on chicken and businesses’ minimum hygiene standards. It also impacts protections on the safety and composition of baby foods.

Re-juggling of limited resources
Retained EU law currently makes businesses label products for allergens and sets maximum permitted levels of chemical contaminants in food.

Members at a Food Standards Agency (FSA) board meeting this week in the UK also voiced concern about the timescale, given there are more than 100 pieces of law that would need to be reviewed.

“This could have very major implications for the work of those in the organization doing policy, strategy, analytics or legal work,” said Emily Miles, chief executive.

Food Standards Scotland said action would require a “substantial resource in an extraordinarily short timeframe”. The agency added that scarce resources will have to be devoted to introducing new law to maintain existing rules to protect Scottish consumers.

The Bill will apply to all of the UK despite agriculture being devolved, which means Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own rules.

Rules developed over decades
Because of the Internal Market Act, even if certain standards continue to apply in Scotland, there would be no way of stopping goods from elsewhere in the UK from being sold in Scotland despite being produced under lower standards.  

Heather Kelman, chair of FSS, said the current bill poses a significant risk to Scotland’s ability to uphold high safety and food standards.

“Much of the legislation which could be repealed as a result of the sun-setting clause has been developed over the course of decades and with significant UK input and influence. It exists to ensure consumer safety through the protection of the most vulnerable and ensuring the food and feed which is on the market is safe,” she said.

“This Bill could lead to a significant hole where consumer protections sit. This Bill confuses red tape with consumer protection and indicates that the latter is now less of a priority and of less importance than when we were in the EU. Whichever way consumers voted on Brexit, they did not vote for a race to the bottom of lower standards and a deregulated landscape that reduces consumer protection.”

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