A small group of invited guests from the government, industry, academia and the third sector met in London on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 to look at the regulatory opportunities and risks post-Brexit, and what a future regulatory landscape might look like. The event was jointly hosted by the British Nutrition Foundation, the Association for Nutrition, the British Dietetic Association, the Nutrition Society and Institute of Food Science & Technology.
The purpose was to inform the thinking, work and policy development of the five organisations on the legislative situation post-Brexit, despite (or due to!) the absence of details so far at the political level. Participants were given a list of relevant examples of current food legislation to focus the discussions on practical outcomes.
The meeting discussions will be summarised and published on the individual organisations’ websites. While the complete analysis of the summit meeting was not available for publication in this edition (but will be published in a later edition), there were some broad themes coming out of the discussions, in terms of both the opportunities and the risks.
The group felt there were potentially significant benefits to the UK leading its own legislative agenda, for example:
• Simplification and consolidation of legislative instruments, with a greater focus on ‘directives’ than ‘regulations’ and more of a risk-based approach informing the level of prescription required. Ideally the food legislation would be brought together in a cohesive package.
• Changing the incentives for primary producers to encourage production that better reflects the public health and sustainability goals, while maintaining the ability to produce what we are good at.
• Development of new standards that reflect the UK consumer, in particular to set compositional, labelling and reformulation standards relating to nutrition, to enable the consumer to focus on the most relevant information.
• The chance to set criteria for hazards relevant to UK consumption patterns e.g. Salmonella in raw mince, acrylamide levels in cooked products.
• Take control of our own risk management decisions, e.g. with respect to new technologies and risks from lower standard or fraudulent imported products. This could facilitate innovation and leverage the reputation of British science, boosting exports.
While there are opportunities, there were also risks highlighted that will need to be managed in the legislative changes to come:
• There is a potential for food inflation, with greater cost of UK production as well as for imported food.
• Many of the opportunities will require an increased capability and capacity to assess and manage the risks, where this is currently led by the EU. Assurance requirements for exports will be higher.
• A danger that safety and standards could suffer, either from a lack of capability as above, or through the development of new standards that don’t deliver the equivalent assurances.
• A higher likelihood of divergence, not just from the EU but also within the countries of the UK, as we pursue a more devolved administration of food; there could be a lack of consistency and a loss of uniformity in our food standards.
• Therefore we could see increased complexity and costs for different export markets, impacting the resources required and the overall level of exports.
As we progress towards a Britain that is outside of the European Union, it is up to those of us working in the food sector to speak up where we see risks, but also work towards finding solutions to manage these. But equally importantly we need to shout just as loud about the opportunities we can see, and do all in our capability to ensure these are recognised.
IFST will work with other organisations involved in this meeting to help steer a path for UK food through the maze of complexities. We are interested in working with our members and other like-minded organisations to achieve this.