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, leading providers of UK food safety support, 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 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. This includes caterers, food retailers, manufacturers and distributors alike. It is the accepted approach for the safe manufacture of all internationally traded food and unlikely to be repealed.
As and when the time comes for food safety legislation to be reviewed, we believe the main elements will remain. They’re not “nonsense regulations” but provide a sound framework going forwards. Additionally they 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. However this is only if the requirements are unnecessarily burdensome. Additionally food manufacturers and producers who export goods to the EU will need to ensure that their products, packaging and labeling 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. The leave vote may be detrimental to the UK economy, bringing more cuts to local authority environmental health department spending. This would leave 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 conclusion, we believe any changes to food safety legislation as a result of Britain leaving the EU will likely be caused by cuts leading to more self regulation rather than any dramatic changes to the inherent food legislation itself.
If you have concerns about how leaving the EU might affect you and your business, give our experts a call.