The EU precautionary principle – namely, putting appropriate measures in place until a proper risk assessment has taken place – has served UK consumers well, and should be continued when the UK leaves Europe, Sue Davies, chief policy officer at Which? suggested.
Davies, former chair of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), was addressing delegates at last month’s Food Manufacture’s food safety conference – Boosting consumer confidence in times of change – sponsored by Appetite Learning, Glass Technology Services, Sealed Air, Testo and the University of Greenwich.
“Obviously, it’s very difficult to talk about what the complexities of Brexit are, because we’re not completely clear of what sort of relationship we may or may not continue to have with the EU,” she said.
‘Hit businesses harder’
“However, we need to make sure that the consumer protection we get through the EU body of legislation is maintained. If you put short-term interests first, then it will only hit businesses harder in the longer-term.”
Davies said that current food law regulation made it “very clear” that the UK had a high level of consumer health protection – one that placed responsibilities on business, but also recognised the role of competent authorities.
“We have a precautionary principle, which means where we have scientific uncertainty, it’s appropriate to put in measures until you’ve done a proper risk assessment. And it’s absolutely crucial that we maintain that approach,” she explained.
Brexit also provided an opportunity to review how aspects of food safety could be strengthened, Davies told delegates. However, she was also concerned about the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) capacity to take on extra responsibly.
‘Centralised approach to legislation’
“Over the last few years, we’ve had a centralised approach to regulation – most recently with the novel foods regulation, with a lot of that shifting to the EFSA,” she said.
“There might still be a way we can linked into that European regulation, but it still raises a lot of issues about risk assessment capability with the FSA. The FSA’s scientific committees serve quite a different function than they would as part of a food approval process.”
Davies called for the National Food Crime Unit – set up by the FSA to fight fraud and unsafe practices within the supply chain – to “move into the next stage and take on a greater investigatory capacity”. She believed it was important that the unit remained within FSA as set out in the Elliott report into the horsemeat scandal.
“If food crime leaves the FSA and gets mixed up with other crime, then it’ll never get the kind of priority it should.”
Meanwhile, don’t miss tomorrow’s free newsletter showcasing content from the Food Manufacture Group’s recent food safety conference.