Stronger FSA needed to avoid Brexit ‘quagmire’

By Noli Dinkovski contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Food Standards Agency’s remit should be expanded in the run up to Brexit: DWF
The Food Standards Agency’s remit should be expanded in the run up to Brexit: DWF

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The remit of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) should be expanded to stop the industry sleepwalking into a “regulatory quagmire” after the UK has left the EU, a leading food lawyer has claimed.

The FSA needed to return to its early years, when it offered consistency and one point of contact for all food matters, “while acting as a huge source of knowledge and information​”, according to Hilary Ross, executive partner and head of retail, food and hospitality at DWF.

A combination of funding cuts – by about a third since 2009 – and the dispersal of its powers have obliterated its ability to be properly effective, Ross suggested.

By handing food labelling to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and nutrition and health to the Department of Health, the coalition government essentially “ripped out the guts​” of the FSA in 2010, she argued.

‘The food industry is very fragmented’

“The food industry is very fragmented and, as yet, there hasn’t been a lot of focus put on it​ [in the run-up to Brexit],” Ross said.

“Its also an incredibly important industry to this country – so with a little bit of thought, a strong FSA, one that is very forward-thinking, pragmatic, consumer-focused, but also able to bring business with them, would be greatly beneficial.”

However people felt about Brexit, there were going to be challenges ahead, and practical issues were a priority, she claimed

“Nutrition, labelling and food safety are all interlinked, so it is senseless to split them into silos. You just need to look at 2013’s horse meat scandal to see how quickly a labelling matter can turn into a safety issue,”​ Ross said.

‘Questions that need to be addressed’

“Brexit is set to throw up an abundance of questions that need to be addressed. For example, who will design the new health mark? And what will become of additives? We need a sensible and coordinated approach to food regulation, and I can’t think of a better body than the FSA to take the reins on this.”

In July, the FSA published Regulating Our Future, which set out a blueprint for changing food regulation by 2020.

In announcing the publication, FSA chairman Heather Hancock said regulation needed to keep up with the pace of change in the global food economy, and called for a more modern, flexible and responsive system.

Meanwhile, divergence on sanitary and phytosanitary standards between the US and the EU could cause problems, as US trade negotiators “play hardball”​ when discussing food and farming products with UK officials, warned Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK permanent representative to the EU, last month.

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1 comment

Single authority

Posted by Bob Salmon,

DG Santé for the Commission tell us that they will only allow trade in food products with member states and other governments that have a single food authority. As Hilary points out here, we in Britain have at least three. So under the EC ruling we will not be permitted to trade with the other member states, particularly after Brexit. Perhaps it is time someone woke up. As the only UK member of the UEAPME Food Forum we have direct access to the Commission, so talk with them frequently on behalf of small and micro food enterprises.

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