That’s the warning issued by the Local Government Association (LGA). The group, which represents 370 councils across England and Wales, said exiting the EU without the rules and framework to ensure traceability of high-risk food and drink products would leave regulators in limbo come March 2019.
Even under the terms of the draft EU-UK withdrawal agreement, access to databases and intelligence about contamination of products would be lost post-2020.
Chairman of the LGA’s Brexit taskforce Kevin Bentley said: “If we lose access to these databases, we will lose access to vital intelligence about the origin of food, feed and animal products and won’t be aware when rapid alerts are issued to the rest of the continent.
“This will significantly weaken our ability to effectively protect the food system, increasing the risk of a new scandal and undermining public confidence in the food industry.”
The group called on the Government and the EU to ensure that, regardless of what form the final Brexit deal takes, the UK’s access to these key mechanisms was retained.
“Continued access to these EU-wide databases is of vital importance and the Government and the EU must ensure that it is maintained,” added Bentley. “After years of funding reductions for Trading Standards and environmental health, we simply do not have the capacity to increase checks to offset this risk, either at ports or inland, unless this is fully funded. Without additional capacity, there is simply no alternative to continuing to receive and share this type of information.”
Previous food scandals, such as horsemeat, damaged public confidence in food and hit red meat sales in the UK, claimed the LGA.
More recently, thousands of eggs produced in the Netherlands imported into the UK were contaminated with the insecticide Fipronil last year, causing widespread recalls and affecting products sold by Asda and Sainsbury’s. Initially thought to be only 21,000 contaminated eggs, the number was soon revised to about 700,000.
“The UK has painful, recent experience of the damage that is caused when food and feed are compromised,” said Bentley.