An equivalent regulatory regime must be ready by 29 March 2019, regardless of any transition arrangement or decisions about the future trading agreement between the UK and the EU, Heather Hancock claimed.
“It’s an issue for two reasons. The risk that something goes wrong – which happens – means we need a fully competent regime to respond,” Hancock said.
“And because, from day one, countries importing UK food will demand assurance that we have a complete regulatory regime in place that – in the same way it protects our consumers – protects theirs.”
Speaking at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum Keynote Seminar, entitled ‘The future of food regulation in the UK post-Brexit’, held in London on Tuesday (24 April), Hancock outlined six areas in which regulatory compliance needed to be met.
These were surveillance, risk assessment, risk communication, risk management, controls and processes, and the ability to review food safety interventions.
‘Public trust and confidence’
“Food regulation beyond our membership of the EU is critical,” Hancock said. “Get it wrong, and we put at risk public health, public trust and confidence. We potentially also compromise valuable trade opportunities and employment.”
Meanwhile, Hancock used the seminar to dismiss as “nonsense” the suggestion that the FSA’s ongoing Regulating Our Future (RoF) programme was a move towards food safety self-regulation.
Under RoF, food safety regulation will move from a ‘one size fits all’ towards a regulatory private assurance model, more tailored to the risk of individual businesses.
“I’ve heard some nonsense talked about our reforms,” she said. “The worst is the assertion that we are ‘privatising’ regulation, or allowing self-regulation. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We want businesses to stand up more to their legal obligation to provide safe, honest food. We want them to share the evidence that they do so, evidence that is reliable and robust and trustworthy. By doing this, we can much more effectively identify risks to public health and public trust.”
Hancock also allayed fears that the FSA was cutting local authorities (LAs) out of the regulatory system.
‘There’s a critical role for LAs’
“I cannot imagine a food regulation system without LAs at the heart. There’s a critical role for LAs in assurance, and they’ll retain responsibility for enforcement of food safety and food standards regulation legislation.”
She explained the FSA was currently testing a “scorecard” on LA performance, which would give it a “much better line of sight” into the overall delivery and controls of LAs.
“We’ve also now started to write to LA chief executives, where we believe that they are slipping behind with their legal obligation to deliver their part of this initial controls regime – and ask them how they are going to step back up to comply with their legal obligations.”
Hancock also provided further details on the online registration system that food and drink businesses were required to sign up to under the reforms. The new system is to be rolled out this summer, starting with new food businesses before gradually moving all food businesses online.
“It will be much like filling in a form for a driving licence, and there will be no cost to food businesses,” she explained.
“An easy to use online registration system will give us – for the first time – a unified picture of all food businesses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We can then put the data it generates into a risk engine, analyse how risky a business is, and set an appropriate inspection regime.”
Food Safety Conference: book now
Changes in regulation and future threats are the focus of Food Manufacture’s Food Safety Conference, which takes place in Birmingham this June.
Leading the line-up is Nina Purcell, director of Wales and local delivery at the Food Standards Agency, who will offer an update on the move to a new risk-based approach to inspecting food and drink businesses.
Other speakers include: Andy Morling, head of food crime at the National Food Crime Unit; Greencore group technical director Helen Sisson; Dawn Welham, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health; and Sue Davies, strategic policy adviser at Which?
Chaired by Campden BRI director Professor Steven Walker, the conference will be held at etc.venues Maple House, Birmingham, on Thursday 21 June.