As the UK food industry prepares for changes in its global relationships, the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) ’Regulating our future’ paper is welcome.  It is welcome not only because the regulatory landscape was due for an overhaul, made more urgent in view of the UK’s relationship with Europe, the USA and other trading partners, but also because it communicates the direction of travel for businesses in the sector.  The paper is good news for consumers too as it reconfirms the role of the FSA to ensure that food is safe and it is what it says it is.

What can businesses expect? 

Five principles are being pursued by the FSA which are summarised as follows:

  1. businesses need to give consumers the information they need to allow them to make informed choices
  2. the decisions of the FSA and its regulatory partners (such as local authorities) need to be tailored, proportionate and based on a clear picture of UK food businesses
  3. the regulator should take into account all available sources of information
  4. businesses doing the right thing for consumers should be recognised and action will be taken against those that do not
  5. businesses should meet the costs of regulation, which should be no more than they need to be

What to plan for

Greater engagement with food businesses, data capture and proportionate responses all form part of the FSA’s refreshed vision.  Some of the practical steps businesses need to plan for are:

  • The FSA’s ideal outcome would be to have a Permit to Trade when a food business starts up. Digital mapping of all food business will take time and the FSA will incentivise businesses to register, receive guidance, collaborate on opportunities with third parties, proportionately manage risk and offer greater consumer protection.  Businesses should keep an eye out for the incentives being made available.
  • The way monitoring and enforcement is pursued will change. Consultations with government bodies continue to develop the criteria for National Inspection Strategies.  Businesses with a longer history of compliance can expect to receive a lighter touch from the hands of the FSA and local authorities, compared to those with a more complex compliance history.  Compliant businesses have an opportunity to request regulators to adopt a lighter touch so as to make a saving on management time.
  • The FSA will take on tasks currently being performed by EU institutions. The paper does not specify the tasks, however, further changes and new roles for the FSA can be expected.
  • New and different charging structures will be introduced to reflect the FSA’s new business model. The financial impact of the changes will be borne by food businesses, with those requiring most intervention bearing the highest costs.

Action to take now

The paper is a good reminder of the importance of clear communication, managing risk and delivering rewards for and with stakeholders.  Here are some actions to take now:

  1. mitigate day to day risks (through HACCP or otherwise)
  2. carry out a regular structural review of your business which can also deliver significant and deeper benefits
  3. businesses should keep up to date with announcements from the FSA in order to seize the opportunities being offered by the changes

For more information from the FSA please click here to visit their website.

If you require further guidance, please contact Gavin Poole on 01872 265100, or by email  Gavin is a partner in the specialist food and drink team at Stephens Scown.