EU Exit: Food and Chemicals Regulation – What Can We Expect?

With exit day fast approaching, IFST and RSC collaborated to assemble a team of experts to deliver their views on what we can expect for the regulation of food and chemicals post-UK exit from the EU. This evening meeting took place at the offices of the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland on 26 September 2018. After registration and light refreshments kindly provided through FSA in NI, Dr Trudy McMurray, chair of the RSC NI section welcomed some 30 members of both professional bodies and introduced the speakers.

Michael Jackson, Head of Regulatory Standards and Assurance for FSA nationally gave an insightful talk on the programme he leads on – ‘Regulating our Future’. Designed to bring UK food and feed regulation into the 21st century and with parallel thinking in Food Standards Scotland, this programme of work will impact on every food business in the UK. The framework of this programme includes the following:  

  • Businesses are responsible for producing food that is safe, properly labelled and ‘true to label’; they should be able to demonstrate that they do so
  • Consumers have the right to information to help them make informed choices about the food they buy – businesses have a responsibility to be transparent and honest in their provision of that information
  • FSA and regulatory 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 recognised; action will be taken against those that do not
  • Businesses should meet the costs of regulation, which should be no more than they need to be

Next, Camilla Alexander-White, RSC Senior Policy Advisor on Environment & Regulation described chemicals regulation and future environment policy post EU exit. In these uncertain times, Camilla focused on the regulation of chemicals such as ‘REACH’ (the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals).

Tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured for use in our everyday life and are vital to UK and global economies. The chemicals sector is integral to many areas of research, innovation, processes and products. As well as bringing great benefits, some hazardous chemicals can present risks to human health and the environment and must be controlled.

The UK will need a future regulatory system that achieves a balance between nurturing innovation, protecting the environment and human health, and enabling the UK to trade internationally. The latter includes our ability to work with and continue to trade in chemicals and products with the EU post-Brexit.

It is critical that the UK establishes how regulatory decisions will be made. This includes addressing how expert scientific input feeds in and what legal relationship the UK will have with EU bodies, such as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

If the UK wants to look beyond the EU, strengthening its role as a world leader in research, innovation and new products for global trade, we need to understand how other potential partners regulate their chemicals and assess regulatory alignment. Camilla also outlined how RSC actively engages on the future of UK chemicals regulation with its members and key stakeholders.

The final talk of the evening was by Michael Bell, Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), and Vice-President of IFST. In a thought provoking talk, Michael painted a troubling picture of what might await the agri-food sector following a ‘no-deal’ exit. He discussed the UK-EU border on the island of Ireland, and the fact that the food industry employs 50-90% foreign nationals depending on seasonality. Michael also touched on a professional veterinarian having to sign as the competent authority on a meat certificate, most UK veterinarians are foreign nationals. And reciprocity is critical. ‘I believe in your standard of controls and you believe in mine’. His talk outlined ctual product standards (Online) and influencing (Offline) standards e.g. environmental. Online standards are well recognised. Chlorinated chicken and hormone treated beef were mentioned on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show recently. Standards define trading and are coming under intense political scrutiny. ost WTO food tariffs are in excess of 20% and are not commercially viable when the average net margin for food manufacturing in Northern Ireland is 2.8%. You can read more in Michael’s article in the September 2018 issue of Food Science & Technology magazine.

After such eloquent and informative talks there was a lively Q&A session chaired by Michael Walker with key contributions from the audience, including Dominic Darby, Chair of the IFST NI branch. Dominic thanked the speakers who were presented with small gifts courtesy of RSC and noted the benefits of professional bodies working together. It was agreed the success of this meeting should lead to further close partnership between IFST and RSC.

Michael Walker