The Food Standards Agency of the UK (FSA) is making changes to its work plan for 2022–2023 due to unforeseen demands, the agency explained in its December 2022 board meeting. Despite FSA’s decision to put the brakes on some areas of work, the agency expresses that it will continue critical activities to ensure the safety of the UK food supply.

Since the publication of its five-year strategy and the presentation of its Fiscal Year 2022–2023 Budget in March 2022, FSA has taken on new or expanded areas of work that were unexpected and are demanding of the agency’s resources. One such area of work is supporting the development and implementation of the Genetic Technology Bill, which was introduced to the UK House of Commons months earlier than expected. The Genetic Technology Bill would establish provisions about the release, marketing, and risk assessment of precision-bred plants and animals, as well as for food and feed produced from such plants and animals.

FSA must also extend support to other governmental agencies in light of the delay of import controls for EU goods, and deliver work on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and changes to the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill. Finally, the agency needs to take actions related to the Civil Service 2025 workforce commission, which required FSA to model the impact on different levels of headcount reduction on the organization.

The agency will maintain its core food safety functions, such as inspections and handling adverse events, while rising to meet unexpected demands. FSA will also maintain its pace in developing and implementing reforms to the regulatory system. Specifically, the agency will continue work on changing the current model for local authority assurance of food standards and food hygiene, which includes piloting a new enterprise-level assurance approach with five major retailers. Work on FSA’s three-year corporate plan to evolve the agency’s capabilities will also continue.

To ensure that FSA has the capacity to execute the aforementioned ongoing work and manage the unanticipated pressures it is currently facing, the agency will slow, stop or reduce effort on some other important areas of work. Specifically, FSA will put on hold its Official Veterinarian insourcing project to directly employ Official Veterinarians to deliver official controls in abattoirs.

The agency will also slow some efforts to reduce harm to people with food hypersensitivities, but will continue delivering its core activities in this area: responding to allergen incidents, providing policy advice and guidance to industry and enforcement officers, and collaborating with external stakeholders to raise awareness about food hypersensitivity. Additionally, FSA will move forward in its work to improve guidance for industry and participate in an international review on Precautionary Allergen Labeling (PAL), albeit more slowly.

Also related to food hypersensitivity, for 12–24 months, FSA will pause certain activities pertaining to the reform of consumer information, but will continue to build its evidence base. The agency will also pause some of the work underway to improve allergen trainings, but will focus on opportunities to collaborate with external organizations to identify training options for staff in the non-prepackaged sector.

An updated National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) strategic assessment of food crime that had been planned for 2023 will be paused until spring 2024, subject to further review. Additionally, planned reviews on specific areas of guidance for industry such as food handlers’ fitness to work, vacuum packaging and Clostridium botulinum, and pet food production in registered food establishments have been halted. Routine risk analyses that do not directly affect the progress of regulated product applications will also be slowed or paused.

While FSA will continue compiling its annual report on food standards across the UK, it will reduce its scope for the next year or two. Finally, during the next year, the agency will not expand the ways in which it delivers on its mission as much as planned; however, it will continue work that has already begun, such as contributing to the Food Data and Transparency Partnership, the School Food Standards Pilot, and building an evidence base.

FSA stated that it will consider the impact of the new prioritization on its strategic and operational risks. The agency will track, monitor, and assess the identified risks to manage any problems that may arise in a timely manner.