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Brexit: Food Standards Agency

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to enhance the role of the Food Standards Agency after Brexit.

My Lords, the Government, including the Food Standards Agency, are committed to making sure that the high standards of food safety and consumer protection that we currently enjoy in this country are maintained as the UK leaves the European Union. From day one after Brexit, the FSA is committed to having in place a robust and effective regulatory regime, which will mean that business can continue as normal.

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, given that a range of EU agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority, protect us from food scares, contaminated products, misleading labelling and so on, can we be sure that the FSA will have the resources, science and skills to fulfil the noble Lord’s guarantee that UK food will be safe as from exit day? When will it receive clarification of its post-Brexit responsibilities? Finally, does he also agree that the 2 Sisters chicken scandal, which noble Lords will know came to light from an undercover investigation and not from an FSA check, illustrates the importance of regular and robust inspection on the ground in the future, rather than just a reliance on data-sharing and self-regulation by food companies?

I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that the Food Standards Agency is getting the resources it needs, as well as a stable funding settlement across the spending review period. The Chancellor announced £14 million more for it for 2018-19. That money will also beef up—excuse the pun—the National Food Crime Unit to make sure that it can investigate the kinds of cases that she has highlighted. As for the ongoing relationship with the EU, it is important to recognise that during the implementation period we will continue to access food information-sharing systems. We will continue to have food risk assessments carried out on our behalf by the European Food Standards Authority, and the Commission will make risk-management decisions that affect the UK. We will continue to be part of that system until the end of the implementation period. Naturally, what happens after that is a matter for negotiation.

Will my noble friend commit to setting out the timetable for all the implementation regulatory statutory instruments that are required to enhance the powers of the Food Standards Agency, given the role that it will be required to play not just in domestic food production but in relation to all imports from 29 March next year?

I reassure my noble friend that not only are we taking 95% of legislation that derives from the EU regarding food standards and hygiene into UK law through the withdrawal Bill but we are also undertaking work to ensure that we have the right statutory instruments in place in a timely way so that we are prepared for all circumstances when we leave the European Union on 29 March.

If today is an average day, eight notices will be issued around Europe under the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed. The only countries that get those notices are members of the EU and the European Economic Area. We will be outside those. This is an integral part of the single market and the customs union; the system did not exist before we joined the Common Market. How can the FSA operate on day one? If this area cannot be transferred over, how will we get those 3,000 notices a year warning of potential hazards? Collectively they provide security and safety for our population.

The noble Lord is quite right to say that we get those alert systems now, and I can reassure him that we will continue to get them during the implementation period up to the end of December 2020. As all noble Lords will know, we are seeking to negotiate a deep and special relationship with the European Union when the implementation period ends—

I do not think it is a laughing matter; it is a matter of the utmost seriousness concerning the security and safety of this country. It affects not only food safety but chemicals, medicines and aerospace. We have set out our plans for associate membership and others forms of relationship that will provide that information to our systems. Equally, information that makes a massive contribution to the safety of EU citizens is also fed back to the EU.

My Lords, is it possible that the Food Standards Agency will become so strong after Brexit that it will actually do something about the appalling poor-quality food that most poor people have to eat, which leads to our hospitals being filled up by people with all sorts of nutritional problems? Will the Food Standards Agency get behind addressing the problem of class-divided food?

The noble Lord raises an important issue. However, it is important to distinguish what the Food Standards Agency is responsible for and what it is not. It is responsible for making sure that food is safe. Nutritional value is a different responsibility that accrues to the department and to Public Health England, and we have taken many significant actions, including reducing sugar content in drinks and food, to make sure that precisely the issues he is talking about are dealt with.

My Lords, given the increased monitoring at slaughterhouses, both through CCTV and the presence of meat inspectors, is the Minister confident that the FSA has the capacity to train sufficient inspectors to ensure that the meat which arrives on supermarket and butchers’ shelves is fit for human consumption so that we can avoid the CJD and salmonella outbreaks of the past?

The Food Standards Agency has the resources, the expertise and the powers it needs to make sure that it can guarantee safety, as the noble Baroness has described.

My Lords, the Food Standards Agency is very reliant on local environmental health officers for enforcement. In the light of the poverty of local authorities and the cutting back in the number of environmental health officers, are the Government sure that enforcement can take place as it should?

In preparing for the Question today, I looked at local authority spending on enforcement. It is stable at around £140 million a year and has been for a number of years, so local authorities are continuing to prioritise this, as indeed is their responsibility. We want to make sure that we bring new forms of assessment into the food standards regime so that we have an even more robust picture of the risks that are involved in food production.