Regulating our Future

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently published a paper outlining progress with the “Regulating our Future” programme (https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/rof-paper-july2017.pdf). The new framework will apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although the FSA are also talking with Food Standards Scotland (FSS). IFST recognises the paper reflects the FSA’s current evolution in the thinking, rather than a finished design of the new regulatory model. The FSA have been discussing and trialling concepts with stakeholders over the past year, and this is the first comprehensive vision of the framework they have published. This IFST paper examines the FSA’s reasons for change and looks at the main elements of the programme, with commentary on IFST’s position on the proposals laid out in the programme to date.

Rationale for change

The stated aims of the programme are to update what is described as an outdated, “one size fits all” regulatory model, where there is insufficient flexibility to adopt new approaches that are proportionate to risks, and financially and operationally sustainable. The changing food landscape, including longer, more complex supply chains, new retail and distribution models, a more mature assurance industry, etc., are thought to provide not just challenges but also opportunities to manage food safety risks in a more holistic, data and technology centric way. The framework will revolve around a number of core principles set by the FSA:

  • Businesses are responsible for producing food that is safe and what it says it is, and should be able to demonstrate that they do so.
  • Consumers have a 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.

IFST agrees that the current system requires modernisation to meet the new challenges and take advantage of the technological and food industry changes, and broadly supports the core principles of the proposed new framework.

 FSA’s Target Operating Model

  1. FSA will set the standards for food businesses and clarify the requirements for compliance to those standards
  2. Food business operators will be required to undergo “Enhanced Registration”, where there will be an expectation that operators comply with safety and standards regulations before they start trading. Ultimately the FSA support a “Permit to Trade”, whereby registration is legally required prior to trading.
  3. Segmentation. FSA will analyse a larger range of parameters relating to food safety and authenticity, factors not just related to the product type and volumes, but also to the performance and compliance of the operator themselves. This will allow for a flexible approach to inspection and intervention, with priorities being assigned commensurate to the risks posed to the consumer.
  4. Assurance. Providing flexibility in how businesses prove their compliance with the rules and regulations, for example allowing the use of private auditing schemes and digitally enabled technologies to provide assurance data. The intent is to reduce the amount of duplication in checks and inspections, reducing regulatory burden on good performers and re-allocating resources to poor performing businesses. There is also a proposal for using Certified Regulatory Auditors (CRA); people working in the private sector, who are certified as meeting competency standards set by the FSA to deliver assurances and advice in more complex food safety scenarios. Strengthening the Primary Authority and Food Hygiene Rating schemes is also planned.
  5. Intervention. The FSA intend that local authorities will still take action locally against non-compliant businesses, as well as providing support to new businesses. However the FSA will also use other sources of information to undertake surveillance and horizon scanning, including from an expanded role for the National Food Crime Unit and better use of intelligence from industry and international partners.

Potential impacts

The FSA notes that they are proposing ‘fundamental changes’ to the regulatory system. In particular, the model will bring significant change for how businesses, local authorities and the FSA operate. Food business operators will need to be proactive in ensuring compliance earlier and choosing assurance options; good operators may be rewarded with a lower cost of compliance, while poor performers may see increases in costs. Local authorities will find themselves in a competitive marketplace for assurance activities, and will need to demonstrate additional value e.g. through the provision of more advice and guidance. The certification bodies and auditors will face scrutiny from the FSA, but also have opportunities to widen their activities, e.g. with the introduction of the CRA role. The FSA itself will need to develop new expertise in data management and in ‘checking the checkers’, ensuring that the assurance system is appropriately regulated. In addition new standards, and the departure of the UK from the EU will require new technical and regulatory skills and resources.

Success will be judged on a number of outcome criteria that are yet to be articulated precisely but will include measures relating to public health, public and business confidence in food and the FSA.

IFST position

IFST supports food professionals across academia, industry and government and recognises that not all of its membership will support change to the regulatory framework. As an independent professional body that promotes the use of science and technology for the benefit of the public, IFST supports the FSA’s focus on using of data and technology to inform and intervene on food safety and authenticity risks. IFST also supports the use of risk based food safety management to more effectively and efficiently target and manage those risks that are the highest in our food system. Therefore, IFST particularly supports the Segmentation and Assurance components of the new framework and generally the intent to drive the collection and analysis of data for risk management, across the entire model. IFST’s charitable object focusses on ensuring safe and healthy food for the general public; the system as described could add to consumer confidence in the food supply and reduce the public health risks – the development and reporting of outcomes will be paramount to demonstrate that these aims are met.

What are IFST doing about it?

IFST’s position in accrediting professionals and experience with Continuing Professional Development (CPD) puts it in a good position to be involved in the programme and future implementation of the model. IFST are talking to the FSA on what that involvement may be, and how our membership can contribute.

IFST’s Policy and Scientific Development Director, John Bassett, has sat on the FSA’s Expert Advisory Group since its inception, providing advice to the programme based upon his industry, regulatory and risk analysis experience. Where there are opportunities for IFST members to get involved, he will disseminate these. To express interest, or for more information please contact John at j.bassett@ifst.org