CIEH has discovered that references to both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the rapid alert system have been removed during the process of transferring EU law into UK legislation under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, in preparation for no-deal.
The changes were spotted after the charity Sustain highlighted that the key phrase 'effective, proportionate, and dissuasive' has been removed from EU legislation during its translation into UK law – thus weakening the penalty system.
No notification was made in the explanatory notes that these changes had been made, sparking concern among food safety and environmental groups.
Gary McFarlane, director of CIEH Northern Ireland, said: “The amended statutory instrument – the General Food Law (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 – also removes all references to the European Food Safety Authority as well as the rapid alert system (RASFF).
“While this is understandable, what is of concern is that we are currently unaware of any detailed proposals to replace the loss of these. Both EFSA and the RASFF system are fundamental elements of what makes the current UK system of food safety and standards amongst the best in the world.
“We would urgently call on the government to consider how to ensure, post-Brexit, that similar arrangements – whether through new provisions or alternatively an agreement with the EU – exist to protect UK citizens.”
The FSA responded, with a spokesman saying: “The UK government’s top priority is to leave the EU with a deal and that has not changed. Securing continued UK access to the RASFF system, after leaving the EU, is a top food safety priority and we continue to press for full access to this vital data-sharing system in our negotiations with the EU. The Government is also continuing to negotiate a strong and effective partnership with EFSA.
“The FSA’s statutory instruments have been laid in the event we leave the EU without a deal. In those circumstances, the UK will not have access to EFSA or RASFF, so the law needs to be changed to reflect that.”
At a House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee meeting yesterday, the chair of the Food Standards Agency, Heather Hancock, said that the FSA had the resources to take on the function of the EFSA and was “absolutely on track to be ready for that full regime from day one”.
She added: “94% of the new posts are filled and they will all be filled by the end of March. We have increased our management capacity by 30%, our science capacity by 30%. We’ve significantly beefed up the National Food Crime Unit and also beefed up the incidents and resilience unit.”
Lord Teverson, the committee chair, said: “We understand that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal it will have to assess and manage food safety risks itself, and we were reassured by the extent of the preparations that the Food Standards Agency have undertaken in this regard.
“But the other possible scenario from 29 March, which is in just over three weeks’ time, is that we enter into a transition period. During this time we will be required to follow the EU’s food safety rules and regulations, but we discovered today that the UK government has no idea whether we will have full access to EU risk assessments, or any access to their surveillance and information sharing mechanisms. This is deeply concerning.”