Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has proposed a raft of changes to planned work because of a gap in resources.
Plans cover the agency’s priorities for 2023 to 2024 financial year and beyond. Areas have been identified for efforts to be stopped, paused, continued with an exit strategy, or scaled back.
FSS said it would continue to protect public health, but in a “smarter, more efficient and effective way”. The agency admitted it was unable to do all of what was listed in a 2021 to 2026 strategy.
Some areas were left alone such as official controls, the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit (SFCIU), and the Scottish Authorities Food Enforcement Rebuild (SAFER) program, which involves revised food law enforcement.
The warning in Scotland comes at the same time as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) changed its work plan for 2022 to 2023 financial year because of added demands and a lack of resources.
Financial and staffing issues in Scotland
Food sampling and surveillance via surveys to collect data on the prevalence of microbiological and chemical contaminants in food products sampled in Scotland will still be done. Plans to use Voluntary Third Party Assurance (TPA) providers and to extend the scope of the Red Tractor assurance scheme to dairy, poultry, and fresh produce are unaffected.
FSS said it has faced considerable financial and staffing pressures stemming from Brexit and a May 2022 Scottish government spending review. This review resulted in a real-terms cut of around 12.5 percent through to 2026.
An assessment shows that moving into the financial year 2023 to 2024, FSS will be 116 full-time equivalent posts short of what is required to handle current business. Ministers are also due to decide on the Scottish Veterinary Services model in March 2023 which could impact the agency.
The impact of the Retained EU Law Bill is still unclear but could be “significant” in terms of resourcing, according to FSS, as it had not been planned for and there is no added funding to do the work.
Areas to pause or stop work
There are plans to stop Codex-related work, looking at changes in EU law to best align Scottish policy and funding for the Royal Environment Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).
Efforts on horizon scanning and scientific services for food and feed in Scotland including a review of public analyst laboratories and the wider lab infrastructure could be paused. Some of the lab parts has already been delayed from March 2023 to March 2024.
Research and evidence reviews to support the development of interventions to improve food safety and standards will continue but with an exit strategy or will be scaled.
These conditions also apply to studies on the sources and burden of foodborne disease. This would include analysis of epidemiological data on cases plus sequencing of pathogens in humans and food to understand more about the infectious intestinal disease (IID).
An inability to allocate the required level of resources due to budget pressures and the prioritization exercise has also impacted the science, evidence, and information program. However, understanding the impacts of foodborne illness continues to be a priority. FSS’s chief scientific advisor is reviewing the agency’s science and evidence needs and will present findings to the Board in March 2023.
Results from a survey of Campylobacter in retail poultry should be available in early 2023 and research has been started to identify the main sources of Salmonella in the country.
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