Following a report that revealed considerable food safety regulatory challenges throughout the UK stemming from Brexit, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is proposing amendments to the Food Law Code of Practice in England and Northern Ireland.
The report, conducted by the UK House of Commons Committee of Public Actions, highlights the slow development of long-term regulatory strategies following the country’s exit from the EU, and states that federal agencies are facing a lack of skilled professionals required to carry out effective regulation. Specifically, difficulties staffing veterinarians to monitor food safety, toxicologists to assess food hazards, and lawyers to enforce laws that protect consumers are posing a threat to national food safety. Regarding the problematically slow regulatory adaptation to Brexit, the House of Commons has asked regulators to write to the Committee of Public Actions within six months, outlining the progress in developing long-term regulatory strategies, including the legislative requirements and estimated timelines for specific reforms.
Based on the report, the House of Commons is calling for FSA, as well as two other regulatory agencies, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to model staff headcount reductions of up to 40 percent in order to assess the challenges that the regulatory agencies will face in fulfilling their responsibilities. If carried out, such staffing reductions would render the current regulatory framework unsustainable; therefore the House of Commons is suggesting that regulators identify the impact of potential staffing reductions on regulatory risk, and determine where significant changes in the regulatory model would be needed.
Additionally, the House of Commons recommends that regulatory agencies work together to identify common skills shortages, and develop long-term strategies for recruiting, retaining, and training staff to ensure that they have the necessary skills. FSA was specifically suggested to work with the UK Department for Education and relevant professional bodies to address the shortage in qualified veterinarians.
The UK’s departure from the EU has also led to data-sharing and international cooperation problems, barriers to trade, and regulatory complexity that may result in market risks and increasing costs for businesses. However, the report notes that opportunities exist to adopt more agile regulatory approaches outside of the EU that could drive innovation and growth. The House of Commons recommends that the regulatory agencies collaborate to share mitigation strategies for addressing the loss of regulatory cooperation arrangements with the EU, and asks for a progress report after six months regarding their handling of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Additionally, the regulatory bodies are suggested to monitor UK regulatory divergence from the EU and its implications, particularly for small businesses, and asks for a written plan after six months that outlines the steps that will be taken to further international engagement.
Proposed Amendments on Food Law Code of Practice in England and Northern Ireland
FSA is proposing amendments to the Food Law Code of Practice in England and Northern Ireland, for which the agency is launching public consultations. The main proposals include fundamental changes to the current Food Standards Delivery Model within the Food Law Code of Practice, specifically:
- A new Food Standards Intervention Rating Scheme that officers will use to evaluate the risk posed by a food business, which takes into account a business’ inherent risk profile (e.g., scale of supply and distribution, potential for product harm, etc.) and compliance assessment (e.g., current compliance level, management systems and procedures, etc.)
- A new Decision Matrix to determine the frequency at which food standards official controls should be delivered in line with the outcome of the risk assessment, which features a graduated approach that will allow for lower frequencies of official control activities at establishments over time, based on compliance.
The proposed amendments aim to enable authorities to reduce the number of non-compliant products on the market, more effectively target available resources to the areas of greatest risk within the supply chain, and have greater flexibility to determine the appropriate official control method(s) and technique(s) to use, depending on the risk posed by a food business.
Responses can be submitted by downloading response forms from the respective consultation pages and emailing the completed forms to firstname.lastname@example.org. FSA expects to publish a summary of responses within three months of the consultation period’s close.