The regulatory landscape is changing and set against the changed financial environment and likely changes in the event of Brexit. The delivery of a robust food control system at national and local level is a challenge for both the enforcers and the responsible food producer. The latter group needs to understand and navigate this changed landscape.
This event sought to inform the audience on the direction of national and local enforcement, and to lay out a framework for the future.
As on previous occasions, we were fortunate in obtaining three excellent speakers, who gave excellent presentations, overflowing with information, followed by a Q & A panel session.
The session was chaired by Sam Jennings, Chair of the IFST Food Law Group, aided and abetted by Natasha Medhurst, IFST’s Scientific Affairs Manager.
Beverley Küster – Head of Enhanced Registration, Food Standards Agency (FSA)
“Food Business Registration”
Beverley has been trained in hotel & restaurant management and became a shellfish expert in the EU and US. Now heading up Enhanced Registration in the ‘Regulating Our Future’ (RoF) Team at the FSA, Beverley outlined the simplicity for the Food Business Operators to taking the first steps to becoming registered.
She described the place of enhanced registration in the Target Operating Model. The latter aims to create a modern way of regulating businesses based on risk and moves away from unsustainable routine inspection. The ultimate aim is to improve the FSA’s oversight of the industry for better decisions and policy development.
The new registration system is being piloted at 11 Local Authorities [LAs] with roll-outs planned to 8 Northern Ireland districts imminently, and 140 of the remaining 350 in the near future. And whilst the interface between the new system and the LAs Management Information Systems may not be seamless, the food business user has a relatively hassle-free digital experience, unaware of the IT changes in the background, for example the migration of the service from gov.uk to food.gov.uk. So far 500 businesses have registered, with good feedback from both users and the pilot scheme LAs, who view the sharing of information in a non-paper format in a positive light. Another benefit is that easily accessible guidance for business is made available through the scheme – with more advice to be become available to users over time.
Whilst the scheme essentially targets small food businesses such as takeaways and home food producers, there are provisions for multi-site registrations by creating a unique account. But the key message is one of ease of access for both users and LAs and the availability of well communicated guidance.
For interested parties, there is a link to the monthly RoF newsletter and podcast: https://www.food.gov.uk/about-us/about-the-fsa/regulating-our-future/regulating-our-future-newsletter where one can also sign up to receive regular updates and communication on the ROF programme.
Nathan Philippo, Head of Segmentation and Standards, Food Standards Agency
“Regulating Our Future – Food Standards Delivery Review”
Nathan joined the FSA in 2007 after seven years at the Home Office and has led various projects including reviewing the Food Law Code of Practice, creating competency frameworks for authorised officers and the management of burgers that may be less than thoroughly cooked.
The purpose of Nathan’s workstream is to promote the profile of Food Standards within the agency. He focuses on four main challenges:
Resilience is a key concern. Over three quarters of authorities have less than one full time equivalent covering roughly 1000 businesses. Whilst in unitary authorities, Environmental Health staff can perform the function, there is evidence of a lack of knowledge and training
- Reporting & oversight
There is a reduction in sampling activity due to budget cuts, compounded by a reduced enforcement activity at the agency. The lack of audit and inspection on the ground is noticeable
- Intelligence led working
To develop smarter more effective working, effort is being applied to better surveillance, and using shared intelligence to target work with more reliance on regional groups as well as better involvement of the Public Analyst service to highlight emerging risks
- Survey follow up
The report was considered by the Agency Board in December 2018, and food standards identified as a priority. Competency and training issues will be addressed in the first phase
The engagement of 190 officers over 9 events has allowed for a frank discussion of priorities, and a training manual for officers is being developed. Guidance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is currently under development, and the longer-term goal of improved Food Standards compliance delivery seems well on the way.
David Pickering, Trading Standards Manager, Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards
“Regulating Our Future: Putting theory into practice”
David is a long serving Trading Standards Officer whose remit goes beyond the local. He has been the Lead Officer for Food & Nutrition at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute for some nineteen years. This has involved him in projects including the review of the Public Analyst Service, allergen information for caterers and sitting on the expert group of the ‘Regulating our Future’ review body.
David gave his perspective of the RoF initiative under two streams of thought:
- What LAs hope will happen
- RoF will raise the profile of Food Standards work and facilitate the close working with Environmental Health (EH) departments and the FSA
- It will produce a risk scheme that enables effective compliance in the supply chain, recognising that a physical visit and inspection is not always appropriate
- It will enable more capacity to do the work, especially by the employment of apprentices as it become more unlikely that there will be a massive influx of professionals into the field. Volunteer skills could also be sourced – e.g. the delivery of allergen advice to caterers by Public Analysts and other food professionals
- It will recognise the potential for national/local targeting
- It will engage and work better with national regulators, using existing partnerships and sharing intelligence
- It will place the responsibility for Food Standards enforcement with the FSA
- It will develop effective outcome-based performance indicators, with qualitative as well as quantitative measures
- It will improve Food Standards sampling effectiveness with some element of horizon scanning and co-ordination
- It will provide an effectively funded Public Analyst service
- It will lend flexibility so the system is as future-proof as it can be
- What LAs don’t want to happen
- Trading Standards and Environmental Health professionals fail to buy into RoF process
- Local Authority funding continues to fall
- The post-Brexit landscape uncertainty diverts resources – vast amounts are likely to be spent on a ‘No deal’ scenario
- The internet and new supply channels divert regulatory resources - the problem of regulating the internet for consumer protection is well rehearsed
- New food products fall through legislative gaps e.g. CBD (cannabidiol)
- We are unable to resource national coordination on Food Standards issues
Q & A Panel Session
All three speakers were subjected to a number of interesting questions from the audience revolving around the use and exploitation of the Primary Authority principle, links with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [BEIS], third party inspections, and the use of blockchain technology to monitor activity in the meat supply chain.
Speakers were thanked in time honoured fashion by an appreciative audience.
The meeting concluded with a networking finger buffet lunch, with more lively debate.