Even the most diligent producer is bound to get the cold sweats from a compliance overhaul announcement affecting their industry. Even more so if you’re a start-up with limited experience, a small business with limited staff, or a specialist producer whose processes are a tad more complex than the mainstream.
The Food Standards Agency’s announcement of regulatory transformation, however, promises to be good news for the newbies, the small fellows, and the specialists in the food and beverage industry. The FSA describes Regulating our Future (RoF) as an attempt to make the regulation process smarter by taking into consideration unique business scenarios and by utilising manufacturers’ existing processes and systems to prove compliance.
In simple terms, RoF is moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, aiming to replace it with one that understands that food businesses vary wildly in shape and size. With our demand for food growing, increasing pressure on supply chain through shifting resources and climate change, plus an increasingly competitive marketplace, the food industry is facing challenges unforeseen under the old regulations.
Though the FSA is still working out the details of the new model, we’re hopeful that it will benefit all businesses that have implemented rigorous internal quality assurance processes. As part of its overarching strategic goal of assuring, ‘Food We Can Trust’, we believe the FSA’s new RoF will be good news for those food producers who have already implemented stringent quality control processes.
What is the Food Standards Agency?
While even industry newcomers would be able to guess the FSA’s mandate for protecting public health in relation to food, the particulars around the agency are less obvious. Who runs the FSA? Where does it get its authority from? Which localities does it have authority over? Which sources inform their policies? Here’s a short summary:
- The FSA is an independent UK Government department that regulates the food and beverage industry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- The FSA is a non-ministerial government department of the UK that’s governed by the FSA’s Board, rather than directly by ministers. The Board is mainly appointed by the Secretary of State for Health, with one member appointed by the Welsh Health Minister and one by the Northern Ireland Health Minister. The Board holds the FSA to task “so that its decisions or actions take proper account of scientific advice, the interests of consumers and other relevant factors.”
- The Agency consults widely in developing policies and principles that help to improve food safety within the EU. Agency partners include other Government departments, the Council of the European Union, the Commission, Standing Committees, the European Parliament and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The flaws in the current food regulation model
To many, the mere mention of the current food regulation model has the power to conjure up nightmarish memories of visits from local food inspectors. Certainly, though inspection-based models have been around for as long as we can remember, it doesn’t get more easy-going with age.
As we all know, the smallest matter of non-compliance occurring on inspection day can cast doubt on the rigorous practices we’ve maintained for the entirety of the year.
In a BBC article, food writer Joanna Blythman points out various other flaws in the current system. Among these is the discrepancy between the FSA’s claim to have a presence in every abattoir in the UK and testing 90,000 products a year for bacteria, while the Agency does not have its own laboratory. Blythman is of the opinion that the Agency does not have the capacity to deal with crises such as the Horsemeat scandal.
The Need for a New Food Regulation Model
A new approach is necessary that takes a far more holistic view of food standards regulation. While inspections provide consumers with a measure of assurance and keep producers on their toes, it fails to take into account the complexities and the longer-view of a business’s practices. From a modern perspective, it also falls short in addressing the increasing pressure on food resources due to population growth and climate change.
There is another issue as well; one of
In their RoF summary leaflet, the FSA explains the overhauls that will be required to prepare for the future in a modern, global food system:
“We’re modernising regulation because… …we believe there are more effective, modern and efficient ways to ensure people have food that is safe and what it says it is. Global food systems and business innovation have outpaced the way regulation has always been done. We need more agile and flexible regulation in this new world. This includes businesses taking proper responsibility for food safety and local authority resources being efficiently used. Our approach has been supported by the recent Cabinet Office Regulatory Futures Review, and is generating international interest from our peers.”
What is the FSA’s Regulating our Future?
While Regulating our Future is still in the making, the Agency has described the aspects of the new model that will make it more fit to deal with modern challenges. Key changes include:
- RoF will make use of new technology as well as the data that businesses collect from their own audits and checks. This will give them an accurate picture of what’s happening every day, not just on inspection day.
- RoF will move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to one where regulation is contextualised to a producer’s specific scenario, its size, and the level of risk it poses. Risk levels will be determined by a manufacturer’s record of compliance, the type of products they produce, as well as the size of the business and its distribution network.
- The FSA will provide a high level of support to start-up businesses and those that fail to meet standards during the implementation phase. Repeat offenders will face hefty sanctions.
- The design process will be a collaboration between the Agency, the industry and stakeholders. The FSA has invited local authorities, businesses and consumers to be involved by giving their ideas, concerns and thoughts to the Agency. Interested parties can make their voices heard by joining the conversation #foodregulation or emailing the Agency directly at FutureDelivery@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk.
Preparing your business for Regulating our Future
While many questions remain unanswered, there’s no reason to panic – yet! We are currently in the consultation period with compliance of RoF only to be enforced from the beginning of 2020.
The food industry recognises the important role that regulations play in levelling the playing field, safeguarding the supply chain, and protecting consumers. At the same time, we’ve all wished for more flexibility and support. RoF promises to deliver both of these, and so we’ll be following its progress eagerly. Ultimately, Lakeview will be available to you with advice and solutions to help you adjust to any compliance changes with the least disruption to your business.