Leatherhead: EU food safety law will form basis of UK regulations

©iStock/Nerthuz

Leatherhead Food Research has said it anticipates EU food safety legislation will be brought into UK law wholesale following Brexit.

The provider of science, technology and regulatory consulting services added it believes certain pieces of legislation may be “cherry picked” over time and that some areas of food safety law may be amended or improved for the UK market.

It added one of the biggest risks to food safety will come from potential changes to border controls when the UK leaves the EU.

EU legislation into UK law

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered last month by the UK government, formally launching Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The UK and Commission have a two-year window to reach an agreement, after which Britain's membership will automatically end unless the UK and the European Council agree on an extension.

Leatherhead: Things to consider
  • Possible veterinary certification costs
  • Import/export fees
  • Additional border considerations resulting in potential delays
  • Additional possibility for food safety hazards and fraud

Chris Wells, managing director at Leatherhead Food Research, said EU law as it stands provides a good framework for food safety and this will substantially migrate into UK law.

“It is likely that in future some areas of UK regulation will diverge from the EU but this will evolve over time. However, given that Europe is the UK’s biggest export market for food and beverage, manufacturers exporting into the EU will still have to comply with EU food and beverage legislation.

“Furthermore, the legislative environment potentially becomes more complicated if the UK allows the import of more produce from outside the EU – such as GM foods - goods that are not compliant with EU law.

“In these situations UK based food manufacturers will need to ensure that they do not pass on non-compliant food into the EU supply chain.”

Border control changes

Leatherhead said border delays have the potential to have a major impact on food safety and on shelf-life for perishable goods.

An example is salad goods where much produce is imported into the UK from Spain and Portugal particularly during the winter. Typically the market has had a heavy reliance on a fast cold chain distribution system

If an extra day is added into a border crossing then that day is effectively removed from the shelf-life of the product, potentially resulting in additional food wastage.

For non-EU members there are different types of arrangement.

One is the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement that guarantees equal rights but also obligations within the internal market meaning businesses in the EU and the EEA countries have access to the internal market.

Another is a free trade agreement with the EU, or to trade with the EU under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

John Mitchell, from law firm Blake Morgan, said some EU food law standards would have to stay and remain for years after Brexit to protect the UK population.

“Take for example the regulation on the maximum residue levels of pesticides in food.

“[As] it could not afford to employ the number of scientists that would be necessary to replicate the work of the European Food Safety Authority and the co-operative input to it from member states (the current EU list of MRLs runs to about 2,500 pages), it would have to rely upon the work of an external agency such as the EU or the USA.

“Unless it wished to visit wholesale change on industries that will already be reeling from the need to adapt to the (positive or negative) effects of Brexit, it would have little practical alternative but to stick with the EU list and adopt additions as they are made to it by the EU.”

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