Food manufacturers with a good hygiene record will be subject to fewer inspections by local authority environmental health officers, following rule changes by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The decision is part of the government’s campaign to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. The government claimed the campaign will save businesses £1bn in reduced red tape costs by July 2013.
Jeff Rooker, outgoing chairman of the FSA, said: “The FSA’s mission is to deliver safer food for the nation and these improvements will help with that by enabling us to focus resources where the risk is highest.”
Business and enterprise minister Michael Fallon said: “The government understands that hard-pressed firms don’t have time for pointless bureaucracy. Smarter enforcement of regulation will spare firms from unnecessary red tape while ensuring that regulators concentrate their efforts where they are most needed to protect consumers and drive up standards.”
The government examined how regulation is delivered by asking small food manufacturers with up to 50 employees to report on their experiences of working with national regulators and local authorities. The study was led by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and lasted five weeks from May 1 2012.
In response, the FSA will also enhance training – including an innovative e-learning package – for enforcement officers to help them better understand the law and the businesses they are regulating as part of its bid to improve consistency in the quality of enforcement and create a level playing field for businesses.
The agency will also explore alternative ways to deal with disputes between businesses and enforcement officers. Working with industry stakeholders, the FSA will assess what guidance is currently available to businesses; whether it is used and accessible by the industry, and what more it can do to help small manufacturers.
Speaking at the FSA’s board meeting on Tuesday [January 22] Rooker also said that, following the recent horse meat in beef burger scandal, if evidence arises that more checks are needed within certain businesses the FSA would consider increasing the frequency of inspection.
At the same meeting, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown outlined plans for an internal review of its approach to dealing with small manufacturers. It will look at how they are affected by FSA operations and policy and where there may be opportunities to improve the effectiveness of its approach.
Interviews are being conducted with FSA personnel, food business operators and other government departments to help inform the review.
Lowering of standards
Chris Green, partner at law firm Weightmans, said that the changes were good for compliant firms, but was concerned they might lead to certain businesses lowering their hygiene standards.
“This is a good thing for the businesses which do comply with food safety laws, often those with more employees and greater resources, as they won’t have the burden of people coming onto their premises and inspectors can focus more on catching the bad guys.
“My worry is that even when the enforcement priorities are more focused towards those would-be offenders, the regulators’ resources are still so extremely limited that one can see the scope for an undetected large scale public food safety incident increasing as a result,” he said.
Meanwhile, Britain's biggest union has urged government to boost the number of meat inspections in a bid to protect the public against contamination of meat with the veterinary drug phenylbutzone.
Yesterday (January 24) the FSA admitted that five horses which tested positive for phenylbutzone were exported for human consumption last year.