The one-year mark for the UK to exit the EU has come and gone. We are starting to get more feedback from government these days but still many of the important details are left blank. In terms of IFST's priorities, published after the referendum, the mood music around EU research participation has been most prominent, with the Government quick to promise continued funding for Horizon 2020 early in the process. More recently it has outlined broad ambitions in “Collaboration on science and innovation – a future partnership paper” and a positive intent to participate in future research in the position paper on the 9th EU framework, FP9. The Prime Minister herself backed up the message on 2 March in her speech at Mansion House, saying that the UK is "committed to establishing a far reaching science and innovation pact with the EU...(which) would enable the UK to continue to participate in key programmes alongside our EU partners". However details of what this collaboration would look like are still missing, and some reports suggest that actual participation is falling.
Details are even more scarce for the other IFST priorities, i.e. longer-term access to important skills and talent from the EU; access to a sustainable food supply and clarity on the legislative framework. Over recent months IFST has hosted 2 events to probe the issues around future legislation. In November 2017, with other food science and nutrition organisations, we hosted an invitation only event, “Brexit: Future Food and Nutrition Regulation Summit”. The participants saw opportunities in greater self-determination, namely the ability to:
- Develop a regulatory system and legislation that meets the UK needs more specifically, is more streamlined, allowing for a lighter touch where possible, yet is transparent and evidence-based.
- Exercise greater control over food production incentives for farmers to produce healthier and more sustainable food.
- Move faster, in some cases, outside of a legislative framework.
There were also risks identified and, of course, questions still to be answered:
- A change in trading rules could lead to subsequent impacts on imports, exports, food production and diets in the UK.
- Divergence of standards within the UK and the implications of border controls could threaten the food supply chain. There are fears of a drop in food standards (although this was ruled out in the Prime Minister's speech).
- The loss of the scientific capability of EFSA may impact the safety evaluations of UK foods
- The size of the legislative task may lead to a regulatory paralysis
- Changing the food production balance in UK agriculture could negatively impact farming and the agricultural workforce.
IFST's Food Law group also hosted an event in March, titled "Focus Future – A Regulatory Minefield?" The meeting featured speakers from the FSA, FDF and Leatherhead Food Research to help the audience steer through the uncertainties. The FSA now has to integrate the work it is doing on the root and branch review of the food regulatory system ("Regulating our Future"), with the EU exit agenda, no doubt stretching that organisation to its limits. The FDF is meeting regularly with government to represent its members and to promote its Brexit Manifesto; They highlighted the need to get things right on day 1, using a ‘lift and shift’ approach to EU regs, with a roadmap in place for future changes.
They also talked of positives, e.g. opportunities to improve on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and for continued close cooperation with the EU, but provided a greater list of risks:
- Reduced access to talent
- The creation of new non-tariff barriers through regulation divergence
- Divergence within the UK countries affecting the supply of food; the Northern Ireland border a key concern also.
- Loss of access to EU food intelligence and capabilities e.g. alerts, risk assessment, inspection.
So, one year out, what do we have? Still a list of problems to solve and risks to manage. IFST will continue to promote our priorities and we remain committed to finding solutions where we can. We will continue to bring people together to discuss ideas – we have two further events coming up this year, organised by our special interest and regional groups:
If you have ideas on how we can further support a successful transition, please get in touch with John Bassett, IFST's Scientific Policy Director via firstname.lastname@example.org