The Board discussed in detail the FSA’s preparations for the UK’s departure from the European Union in 2019. These discussions did not pre-empt decisions which are yet to be taken by Government The paper was not about the UK’s negotiating position, but instead focussed on the FSA’s planning for EU Exit against a range of scenarios. EU Exit has a very significant impact on the FSA: the vast majority of what we do is driven by the EU regulatory regime and we have never operated outside of it.
The Board’s starting point was its statutory purpose to protect public health in relation to food, and consumers’ wider interests in relation to food. The Board emphasised that independence in matters of food safety and standards is critical to achieving consumer trust and confidence, and should be central to whatever future regime is in place.
The Board agreed that future arrangements should be judged against four over-riding principles: Effectiveness in protecting public health; Maintaining confidence in food safety and the regulatory regime; Minimising disruption for consumers and industry; and alignment with the principles of the FSA’s Regulatory Strategy. Taken together these would deliver public health protection and an equivalent regulatory regime post exit. The Board agreed to return to those principles as there is more certainty and clarity about the future, with the intention of judging the extent to which the principles are being delivered, and to which we are meeting the expectations of consumers.
The Board made a number of key points:
- On Day 1, there must be a safe, effective and unified system to maintain consumer confidence, protect public health, and enable trade in food to operarate smoothly within and outside our borders.
- Consumers interests and the interests of food businesses are both better served by a future system that respects devolution arrangements but minimises the risks that divergence could pose, to consumer confidence and trade.
- potential solutions are available to deliver these ambitions, creating a working mechanism to preserve independent risk assessment and facilitate the large volume of technical risk management decisions, whilst recognising that there will be a small number high profile issues where broader concerns make ministerial engagement necessary and appropriate.
- There were a series of critical decisions needing to be made regarding: strengthening the NFCU; import and export processes being adequately planned and resourced; increasing science capacity and capability to meet future risk assessment obligations, reflecting a range of outcomes concerning the UK’s future role with EFSA; the value that EU notification systems add, and the complexity in replicating those; and the importance of recognising the labour and workforce implications of exit, both for our own workforce and any wider food safety risks for the food sector.
The Board looked for clarity and confidence about its own role, to act as an effective equivalent regulator, as soon as possible, so that it can better plan for how to deliver a new regulatory regime, secure resources to do it, and manage risks inherent in that. Finally, the Board welcomed the ongoing discussions with stakeholders across our remit in all 3 countries, and it also welcomed the continuing level of collaboration with other government departments across the UK, the very close working relationships with Food Standards Scotland, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and many international partners.
The Board then considered the FSA’s programme to drive improvements in animal welfare standards in slaughterhouses in England and Wales. It welcomed the progress the Agency has made in delivering its Deter, Prevent, Detect, Enforce programme and especially the success made so far of its new animal welfare reporting system, Chronos. The Board appreciated all the work carried out in collaboration with the poultry industry to reduce animal welfare issues and in particular being able to prevent welfare issues from the start. The Board reinforced its commitment to mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses but could not make an open-ended commitment to the effective use of CCTV without regard to the resource implications. The FSA’s response to Defra’s consultation would provide more detail on the praticalities, uncertainties and implications, and the FSA would want these points to be recognised in the impact assessment.
The Business Committee discussed the outcomes of a project to review the withdrawal and recall system in the UK food retail sector. It heard about the extensive research & consultation which has been done to help identify improvements to enhance the withdrawal and recall system. The Committee agreed on the improvements proposed to the current withdrawal & recalls system to help maintain public confidence in food. It commented that the most important step was reducing the number of issues or incidents which lead to food recalls and withdrawals in the first place and reinforced this as a key principle to the project. The Board reiterated the need to work with industry to improve consistency and build success measures into the work plan.
The papers discussed are available on our website and a video on demand recording of the meeting will be available on the FSA’s website on Friday 22 September.