Dominic Watkins, head of food law at DWF, said it was key for the UK to integrate EU laws into domestic laws to provide consistency for manufacturers. However, the sheer scale of the number of laws that needed to be transferred could prove difficult, he added.
Speaking at Food Matters Live, Watkins said: “In order to achieve that, we need to do something with the vast amount of EU regulation. Something like 95% of food law comes from the EU and the vast majority of that is in regulation.
“You suddenly get into a legislative tsunami. About 7,000 EU legislations have to come across and there are 900 directives that, while slightly easier to integrate, are cross-referenced in UK law.”
One example Watkins gave was the actual definition of food, which UK law relies on EU legislation to specify.
Despite the overwhelming number of EU laws the Government has committed to transfer – as referenced in the withdrawal act – exiting the EU did present the opportunity for policy-makers to implement new laws that better serve the UK, said Watkins.
“When we transpose them, we cease to be stuck by what the EU previously said – it gives the opportunity for divergence,” he added. “Things like nutrition and health claims could be done differently.
“Front-of-pack labelling is one example. In a post Brexit environment, there’s no theoretical reason why we couldn’t choose to do something different for products sold in the UK.”
Watkins urged the food industry to be proactive and seek clarity and assurance around the legislation that applied to them before Brexit. If the industry was passionate about getting the best deal for themselves, then now was the time to push the Government to get what they needed in a post-Brexit Britain, he said.
On the topic of getting ready for a no-deal or cliff-edge Brexit, Watkins said businesses couldn’t be too prepared for whatever outcome the UK approaches in March 2019.
“If you’re prepared for the worst and we end up with a deal that essentially says the status quo will continue, then you may have wasted a little bit of time now and it may have been at some additional cost, but that’s better than having a massive impact on trade and your ability to do business,” he concluded.