FSA wants to change regulation but vague on details

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/zimmytws
©iStock/zimmytws

Related tags: Food standards agency

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) will start a three month trial as it looks to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to regulation.

The agency said the model that includes sending local authority inspectors to see how businesses are providing food standards and hygiene assurance to consumers was ‘resource intensive’.

Cost has also been said to be a factor with the FSA budget for each year until 2020 being £85.4m, down from £108m in 2014/15, which the agency said equates to a real-terms reduction of 7%.

FSA added it wanted businesses to take responsibility for food safety and local authority resources to be ‘properly’ used.

It has gone to Tesco and pub and restaurant chain Mitchells & Butlers to do the trials, according to our sister publication The Grocer​.

Not broken but tell-tale cracks

Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA, said it wants to move to tailored and proportionate regulation by 2020 that reflects risk and reinforces accountability.

“We will use robust industry data to help assure compliance and tackle public trust. We’ll make smarter and more comprehensive use of accreditation. And we’ll ensure costs are fair and properly allocated. By 2020, we will have a fresh regime that’s agile, flexible and powerful.”

She said while the current system isn’t broken there are tell-tale cracks.

“We’ve a one size fits all approach to 600,000 food businesses. It’s designed around visits from inspectors bearing clipboards, which might have been enough 20, 30 years ago but it isn’t now.

“We’re relying too much on visual inspection when many critical food risks can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s resource intensive, and it will be unsustainable before too long.”

She added the changed approach will allow a focus on new disease risks, food fraud and crime and decisive action against people who negligently and wilfully risk public safety.

Not everyone is yet persuaded of the need for change, said Hancock.

“I’ve heard some say: ‘Hold on. Consumers like the current system, they like the reassurance it offers, it’s working well.’ In truth, the public give little thought to it. They simply expect that someone’s got their back.

“What they believe happens, and the reality, are already quite different. We can’t wait for the cracks to be big enough for the public to notice.”

Safety and standards not kept pace with sector

FSA said there’s more demand for food, increasing pressure on resources, uncertain production due to climate change and an increasing number of new suppliers.

It added business innovation has outstripped the way regulation has always been done.

We understand that food businesses come in many different shapes and sizes. We are proposing having a regulatory framework that can be adapted according to different types of food businesses. 

“For example, many big businesses have robust auditing and sampling regimes in place to ensure the food they provide to consumers is safe and what it says it is.”  

The agency said it was in the process of working out details of the new regulatory model and how it will work.

“We are proposing a model that continues to use inspections and visits alongside the information we can gain from business’s data and accredited third party audits to ensure that food safety and authenticity are top of a food business’s mind every day – not just on inspection day.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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