UK eyes intelligence and fee-led food import safety overhaul

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, International trade

A new strategic approach based on intelligence gathering, more analysis, cutting bureaucracy and better training for regional bodies will boost the safety of imports into the UK, said the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

However, industry could face being forced to pay the bill for the extra costs associated with the beefed up system if goods shipped in from abroad fail to meet UK standards.

"This approach is about keeping consumers protected and more effectively meeting the demands of the growing and fast-moving global food supply base, where costs on higher risk, non-compliant or suspect foods are met by the trade,”​ said the body in a plan set to go before FSA chiefs next week.

The safety watchdog has unveiled proposals to overhaul its overall approach to managing the risks in the face of an increasingly global food and animal feed supply chain where over half of the UK’s imported produce - valued at £10.3bn in 2009 - comes from ten exporting third countries (outside the EU).

Intelligence and analysis

The fundamental principle behind food safety controls in the European Union is that all imported foods must meet standards set within the region, said the agency.

The FSA said it was bidding to introduce a proactive approach by investing in analysis and information sharing to enable “greater targeting and a proportionate regulatory system to effectively spot and deal with unsafe or non-compliant​” food.

The two strands will be risk-based target checks at ports and local authority monitoring of imports throughout the supply chain and working with international partners to ensure the safety of food and feed from non-EU countries.

The emphasis on intelligence will see the FSA improve its knowledge of products, country sources and trade patterns so that surveillance in the UK can be more targeted.

Current weaknesses

The agency said it want to make its current online advice portal on legislation simpler following feedback from UK ports that the current GRAIL system is difficult to use.

The body said it wanted to address weakness in the country’s monitoring system which was “generally satisfactory “​ for food but “weaker” ​for animal feed.

Raising standards and ensuring consistency at smaller UK ports and inland authorities was also highlighted as a priority by the report. The plan also raises the need to examine how smaller and larger ports communicate.

It also set out the need to cut bureaucracy at ports – as it described the current system as “heavily paper-based and onerous”.​ The long term aim is to automate clearance procedures by matching electronic versions of import documents and replace the present paper-based system.

Working with UK bodies such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was underlined.

Fees linked to compliance

Raising the issue of cost recovery for official controls, the report said: ”Charging for official controls for imports should be used as a tool to improve compliance”.

The FSA said it had, in partnership with out member states, drawn up a fee proposal that it urged the European Commission to adopt.

“These principles include the need to establish a fee system that is simple, based on actual costs (allowing for full cost recovery) and linked to compliance,”​ it said.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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