The regulator will use a range of indicators and data in order to determine the risk presented by a business. Some of these will come from regulatory areas beyond food to help the FSA “judge the behaviour and culture within the business and the impact this may have on food safety compliance”.
For some businesses, the FSA predicts the risk will be “so low that they do not merit inspection”. Those at the other end of the scale, however, should prepare for inspections that are “more intrusive and rigorous than they have experienced until now”.
The framework is part of the FSA’s new approach to enforcing food laws. The agency’s chairman Heather Hancock has previously referred to this as “right touch” regulation, but critics have suggested the changes amount to self-regulation for UK food businesses.
Take note: the FSA hasn’t changed the actual regulations that specify what food businesses are required to do; rather it’s a new way to “deliver regulatory assurance”.
The FSA said the new system will see standards improve in risky businesses and cut the administrative burden for those that demonstrate they are compliant with food law.
Hancock said: “We want to improve relationships with industry, bring a more commercially astute understanding onto our regulatory decisions, and above all ensure that the stringent and robust standards we set help food businesses fulfill their responsibility to produce food that is safe and what it says it is.”
The plans are given “extra momentum” as the UK leaves the EU, she explained – “a step that will adjust patterns of food production, trade and consumption. We need a modern, flexible and responsive regulatory system. It is important that we act now, rather than wait for the system to falter, risking damaging consequences for public health and for trust in food.”
Research by the FSA has shown that just 47% of consumers trust the people that produced their food. Brexit has fuelled concerns that food laws will be relaxed once the UK leaves the EU. There are also fears that some new trade deals could result in the market being flooded with cheap, poor quality food.
Last week, the UK food and farming secretary, Michael Gove, attempted to play these down. He said the UK would not enter a race to the bottom to win new trading relationships. However, Gove has also suggested that food will become cheaper post-Brexit even if standards are raised.
Food policy experts recently warned the UK was facing a future of “less safe and nutritious foods”. The paper, published on July 17 by the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, noted how the FSA’s budget has been severely cut in recent years.
“The UK enters ‘Food Brexit’ with the FSA seriously weakened, just when it will be needed even more because Food Brexit means leaving the many EU institutions that help to protect food safety and public health,” the authors noted. “There are good grounds not simply for maintaining food standards in and after Food Brexit but for raising them. Who is championing this inside Whitehall? So far, no-one is doing so.”
On July 13, the UK government published its EU (withdrawal) bill, which will aim to transpose thousands of EU laws and directives into British law. However, big questions remain (for example, will the UK work with the European Food safety Authority?) and much can change as the bill passes through parliament.