FSA sets out plans for food regulation to meet modern market needs

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21 Jul 2017 --- The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has published the department's plans to change food regulation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, particularly in the post-Brexit UK. Its plans include taking the burden of regulation off businesses that do the right thing for consumers and adjusting to the modern food marketplace.

The FSA’s document, Regulating Our Future – Why food regulation needs to change and how we are going to do it, sets out proposals to create “a modern, risk-based, proportionate, robust and resilient system” of regulation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland after 2020.

“We have always been clear that it is the responsibility of food businesses to produce food that is safe and what it says it is,” states the FSA in the document. “We are changing the existing approach to regulating the food industry because we believe it is outdated and becoming increasingly unsustainable,” it continues, citing the need to keep pace with technological changes in the food industry and adapt to the new environment.

“The case for changing the food regulation system is strong,” FSA Chairman Heather Hancock says. “We need to reform the way we regulate to keep up the pace of change in the global food economy: in what we eat, where we consume it, how it reaches us.”

Adjustment to modern commerce is a major theme in the future plans. The FSA “doesn’t know in real time how many food businesses actually exist or, who is operating them,” it says, citing the new players in the food and food safety landscape, including online retailers and food delivery services. 

Future changes proposed include an enhanced system of registration, which will mean that the FSA has to get better information on all businesses so that it can better identify and manage risk across the food chain. Knowing more about a food business will enable the FSA to make better judgments about regulating the business, the FSA says. The agency states that it wants to “create a hostile environment for those businesses that don’t proactively register.” To this end, the role of the UK’s National Food Crime unit may be broadened and deepened.

In order to ensure that businesses are doing the right thing when they provide food, the FSA also plans to introduce more options for proving it. The frequency and type of inspection activity that businesses face will depend on how robust the information that businesses share is, including their past performance. This is intended to ensure that businesses with a good history of compliance will face a lower burden from regulation, and to free up local authority resources to target the businesses that present the greatest risks to public health.

In all, the FSA has set out five main principles for a future regulatory system: businesses should be transparent and honest about the food they provide; the FSA and partners’ decisions should be tailored, proportionate and based on a clear picture of UK food businesses; the regulator should take into account all available sources of information; businesses doing the right thing for consumers should be recognized, those who are not should be punished; and businesses should meet the costs of regulation, which should be no more than they need to be.

The FSA also promises to relieve taxpayers of regulation’s burden on them. The current model “is financially unsustainable,” it says, “with taxpayers bearing the cost of food regulation in a way that is incompatible with wider regulatory policy.”

“It's essential that the FSA acts now to address the risks in our current regulatory approach. Being proactive, rather than waiting for a crisis, is the responsible approach,” summarizes Hancock. “We want to ensure that food regulation in the future is fit for purpose, anticipates and responds to new, emerging risks, and uses new technology and data to evidence that food businesses are fulfilling their obligations for food to be safe and authentic.”

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