Most of the fundamental requirements of UK food safety laws stem from EU legislation, including the overarching legal requirement for food businesses to use a documented food safety management system based on the principals of HACCP for all their food safety management.
With the UK having voted to leave the EU there is much uncertainty as to what might lie ahead. Fiona Sinclair and Mike Williams from STS Solutions, a UK food safety support specialist, took a look at the potential impact on food safety legislation here in the UK, in particular what is likely to become of the legislation which originated in the EU – will it be retained, amended or omitted?
The requirement to manage food safety using HACCP principles is unlikely to change. HACCP was introduced in the UK via Europe as a sound and systematic method by which to produce safe food, however this is not ‘merely’ a European approach to food safety – it is worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) sets down international food standards, which serve in many countries worldwide as the basis for legislation. HACCP originated in the US and is now commonplace worldwide including, more recently, Australia. Its foundations are embedded in the WHO’s codex alimentarius and it’s unlikely they would change when Britain leaves the EU.
The approach of hazard analysis has been a legal requirement in the UK since 1995. This approach to providing safe food is now commonplace within the food industry. It has been invested in and is generally well understood and effective for food businesses – caterers, food retailers, manufacturers and distributors alike. It is the accepted and expected approach for the safe manufacture of all food which is traded internationally, and as such, is unlikely to be repealed.
As and when the time comes for food safety legislation to be reviewed, we believe the main elements will remain – regardless of their origins. They are not ‘nonsense regulations’ but provide a sound framework going forwards and would need little amendment if they were to be adopted as a UK model. Some of the more product specific regulations might require some amendment or consolidation where there is recognised ambiguity, or if the requirements are unnecessarily burdensome. It should also be remembered that food manufacturers and producers who export goods to the EU will need to ensure that their products, packaging and labelling complies with EU law, so change for change sake is not necessarily a good thing for business.
Rather than legislative changes, we think any changes to food safety which might come about as a result of Britain leaving the EU are likely to be observed in terms of easing the legislative burden, for example reducing the number of enforcement visits. If – as it has been speculated – the vote to leave has a detrimental impact on the UK economy and we see more cuts to public spending then the already under-resourced local authority environmental health departments could well be hit by further cuts, leaving them struggling to achieve inspection targets.
It is likely that we would see an acceleration of schemes to reduce the financial burden on enforcement bodies, e.g. earned autonomy for multi site businesses which meet recognised standards of food safety, thereby requiring a reduced number of inspections by local authorities. Similarly we could see further development and encouragement of the Primary Authority scheme, through which advice is provided by enforcement bodies paid for by the food businesses.
In summary, our view is that any changes to food safety legislation that might come as a result of Britain leaving the EU are more likely to be fuelled by cuts leading to more self regulation rather than any dramatic changes to the inherent food legislation itself.