The aim is to complete the strategy by the end of the year, food and farming minister George Eustice told delegates at the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) conference in London. “There are things government needs to do and there are things that the food industry needs to do as well,” said Eustice.
Improving skills within the sector and more widespread adoption of technology to improve competitiveness would be central to the plans, he said. The government also wanted to open up more export markets for food and drink, he added.
Explaining the government’s priorities for action over this parliament, Eustice recognised the importance of food manufacture to the UK. According to government figures, the agrifood sector last year employed about 3.8M people (13% of national employment) and contributed £103bn to the economy, with £18.8bn of exports.
Burden of inspections
However, he remarked that one of the biggest constraints on food businesses to emerge from Professor Chris Elliott’s report into the 2013 horsemeat scandal was the burden of inspections on them both by retailers and officials.
He suggested it might be possible to reduce the number of inspections food businesses are subjected to and make better use of a single accreditation system.
“It is not easy doing that, because the retailers have got their own specific requirements, but it is worth pushing on that,” said Eustice.
At the same event, BMPA president Peter Mitchell expressed regret that so little progress had been made to date on reducing the burden of regulation on processors. He called for more “proportionate” regulation, to enable the UK meat industry to prosper in future.
Meat processors sought a fairer approach to meat inspection charges, ending cross-subsidies, said Mitchell. He also called for faster progress on reforming the discount system “ultimately leading to its abolition and reducing the burden of the FSA’s [Food Standards Agency’s] indirect costs on the industry”.
Further progress was needed in Brussels on EU official meat inspection controls to ensure they were “proportionate and risk-based inspections, that address today’s food hazards”, he added.
Mitchell also expressed concern that, given the EU represented a key market, any exit of the UK following a referendum would be damaging, as meat processors would still have to comply with EU rules in order to trade with it.