Uncertainty still surrounds issues such as the future role of the Food Standards Agency, the implementation of Labour’s 2030 food report, and VAT on food.
However, according to Parjit Singh, food sector head at law firm Eversheds, the government’s meetings, negotiations and policy announcements have so far yielded some clues as to how the food industry will fare under the coalition, particularly in regard to food labelling and employment laws.
“There are some areas where we have greater clarity, namely in the area of food labelling. The Coalition plans to introduce ‘honesty’ in food labelling so consumers can be confident about where their food comes from and its environmental impact. It will be interesting to see how these measures will fit into the food information regulations to be adopted by the European Union,” Singh told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
The law firm also said the food sector will need to prepare for changes in employment legislation, which will have an impact in terms of additional business costs and administrative burden.
"Perhaps the greatest surprise in the new Government's coalition programme is its intention to ‘review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive,” said Eversheds employment partner Naeema Choudry.
According to Choudry, if followed through this commitment could result in extensive employment law reform. “If, however, the Government is to meet its promise to reduce ‘red-tape’, such reform is unlikely to result in a wave of new regulations. Any changes which do come about are likely to be piecemeal, with a view to simplifying current legislation rather than adding to it.”
However, the biggest issues affecting the food industry still remain unclear, such as the role to be undertaken by FSA.
“Prior to the election, both the Conservative and Labour parties had differing views as to what role the FSA would fulfil, with the Conservatives planning to strip it of diet and nutrition strategy and revert it to a pure food safety authority reporting to DEFRA. There is no mention of this in the new programme of government, which means the remit of the FSA is still unclear,” said Singh.
There has been no further sign as to whether VAT will be placed on food. According to Singh, this would be “an easy option [to help tackle national debt] but so far, this doesn’t seem to be on the agenda.”
In addition, there have not yet been any signs as to whether the strategies outlined in the Labour government’s Food 2030 report will be reconsidered under the Coalition government. “The UK needs a coherent food policy so it would be hoped this area is examined quickly.”