The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) published the results of a survey it conducted to ascertain the views of food business operators (FBOs) in the dairy, meat, and wine sectors. The survey supports the rollout of the Operational Transformation Program (OTP) and the implementation of official controls.

The study entailed a quantitative survey of 400 FBOs based in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, followed by in-depth interviews with 60 FBOs. Fieldwork took place between June and August 2022. Questionnaire coverage included FBOs’ experiences working with FSA, their understanding of FSA’s work, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s exit from the EU, and their familiarity with OTP.

Overall, the majority of FBOs reported a positive experience with FSA, with seven in 10 asserting that they had a “good” experience. Positive feedback highlighted the support and communication FBOs received from FSA staff. Negative views covered a range of factors, including inconsistent auditing, and slow turnaround or unclear language in reports. Additionally, FBOs typically reported that they understood FSA’s overall purpose, although they had less clarity regarding FSA’s decision-making, required payments to FSA, and FSA’s funding.

The most commonly reported reasons for difficulty complying with FSA guidance were a lack of clarity, complicated processes, and increasing burdens on staff time. Interviewees also revealed confusion between different food safety standards and how FSA relates, the inconsistency of FSA inspectors, and the costs of compliance.

The majority (72 percent) of FBOs reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had no impact on their ability to comply with FSA regulations, and some reported that the pandemic had actually contributed to growth and new opportunities. However, 18 percent reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their ability to comply with FSA regulations.

Meanwhile, the majority of FBOs (70 percent) felt the UK’s exit from the EU had some level of impact on their business. There was some variation by sector, with wine businesses most likely to report an impact, followed by meat and dairy. Overall, businesses typically felt negatively affected by Brexit. Negative themes included issues with recruitment, increased paperwork, issues relating to customs, and increased costs.   

Only a minority (22 percent) of FBOs had heard of OTP.