DEFRA task force has failed fresh produce, FPC

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fresh produce European union Regulation

'Striking a Balance' Does DEFRA's task force report mark a new regulatory dawn or a missed opportunity?
'Striking a Balance' Does DEFRA's task force report mark a new regulatory dawn or a missed opportunity?
The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) says that a prominent DEFRA task force appointed to cut red tape for farmers and food processors has ignored oppressive regulations facing its sector.

The newly published report from the Farming Regulation Task Force (established in June 2010) ‘Striking a balance: reducing burdens; increasing responsibility; earning recognition’ is aimed at better regulation of food and farming businesses.

The authors advise DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) and its agencies to “establish an entirely new approach to, and culture of regulation”​ and reduce frustration for farmers and food processors by adopting a more efficient and effective inspection and enforcement regime.

Task force chair Richard Macdonald said the authors' recommendations to DEFRA for action included a “simpler livestock movements regime, reducing paperwork associated with nitrate regulations and improving bureaucracy around the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Biting issues

However, FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney said his trade association was unimpressed by the report: “Despite providing DEFRA and its task force wth an extensive list of issues on behalf of the fresh produce industry, we still see little appetite to take up the real biting issues impacting on our industry.”

Jenney said the report did a “laudable job”​ by recommending a lighter regulatory approach, but said it ignored key regulatory areas affecting fresh produce supply and that fine words did not go far enough.

A FPC spokeswoman told that the trade body's recommendations to the task force - not taken up in the report - include the removal of specific marketing standards that remain for imports of 10 products under the EU Marketing Standards.

Implemented in July 2009, the standards dropped the requirement for importers to apply for prior notification and conformity certification for a wide range of fresh produce entering the EU. However, the exemption does not apply to apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, pears, peaches and nectarines, strawberries, table grapes, lettuces/endives, sweet peppers and tomatoes.

“The EU Marketing Standards aimed to harmonise, consolidate, simplify and deregulate the European Commission Marketing Standards. We believe this can go further,” ​she said.

Plant health inspections

Another FPC suggestion included integrating the government’s PEACH system (which provides fast-track electronic entry clearance of non-EU plants and fresh produce) with other government IT systems and those used by port authorities, saving importers the extra expense and potential delays involved with making separate import pre-notification applications to HM Revenue & Customs.

Jenney said the FPC was particularly worried by DEFRA’s newly proposed plans to increase the cost to importers and agents of plant health inspections (to prevent plant diseases and pests entering the EU) "by many millions"​, especially given that the FPC was unhappy with current service delays and costs.

Increases in the cost of doumentary checks and inspections was “not acceptable, viable, or competitive” ​compared with other EU states, said Jenney, given that risks of plant health issues arising from fresh produce were "minimal, less than one per cent".

“There is already an EU-wide review of the plant health regime underway and we await the findings. So why is Fera ​[DEFRA agency the Food and Environment Research Agency] intent on imposing these exorbitant charges now and placing UK businesses at a commercial disadvantage?”

Other FPC recommendations not followed by the task force included simplification of import regulations regarding organic food from non-EU nations, and revision of the UK’s implementation of EC Regulation 669/2009, which covers ‘high risk’ fresh produce imports from the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Turkey and Egypt.

In its submission to the task force written last October, the FPC said increased controls (pre-notifications and physical checks on imports introduced last January) were having a “devastating affect” ​on UK companies and threatening the livelihoods of growers abroad.

FDF hails new chapter

However, FDF director of communications Terry Jones welcomed the report, and “in particular its conclusion that whilst government should continue to set the strategic agenda, it should look to partnerships with industry to deliver the detail”.

“Food and drink manufacturing has already demonstrated enormous potential for growth and we have clear ambitions for making our sector even stronger and contributing to a rebalanced economy.”

“If DEFRA accepts these recommendations, this could mark a new chapter in the developing partnership between government and food manufacturing businesses.”

DEFRA did not comment on the report when contacted by

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