Regulator publishes plan to simplify UK's food laws

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa Bottled water Food standards agency

Reducing paperwork and consolidating laws could save industry about
£200m (€293) in the first year, the UK's food regulator said in
publishing a plan to simplify legislation.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said excessive or unclear regulations hinder compliance and the effective delivery of public health benefits.

"Simplification means to clarify or change regulations to help people comply with regulations without removing necessary protection for the public,"​ the FSA stated yesterday. "The burdens may fall on private, public, therefore including enforcement issues, and voluntary sectors. They can also originate from either domestic or European regulatory proposals. Making compliance with legislation easier for businesses should enhance consumer protection offered by regulations."

The plan is being published as a public consultation. It puts forward nine main proposals to simplify the law. The FSA plans to publish the final proposals in April.

The proposals include the consolidation of a number of pieces of legislation, including the existing UK bottled water laws. The consolidation will improve comprehension and interpretation, the FSA stated.

The sale of all bottled waters in the UK is controlled by the Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water Regulations. Enforcement authorities and bottled water companies have complained that the legislation is difficult to follow due to its complexity.

"This allowed for differing opinions on compliance and resulted in numerous queries to the agency seeking clarification of the requirements,"​ the FSA noted.

The FSA will consolidate the existing UK legislation into one law to simplify interpretation. The FSA will also develop guidance in this area for industry and enforcement authorities.

The agency estimates that the consolidation would generate an administrative cost saving of £80,000 per year for the private sector. Formal FSA consultation on the consolidated legislation is due to start in March 2006. The consolidated text is expected to come into force on 1 October 2006.

The consultation document also outlines the UK's government programme to develop electronic systems to replace existing paperwork-based ones. The programme includes the development of a central database (GRAIL) to store legislative information and guidance on food imports, initially for port health authorities.

The FSA estimates port health authorities currently spend a total of £90,000 per year in collating and managing records and looking up information and guidance about food import controls.

Businesses that import food will benefit by having queries resolved more quickly and efficiently. The time that food is held at ports awaiting clearance will be reduced, the FSA stated.

The plan also provides a number of examples of where the FSA has taken steps to reduce private sector burdens being introduced by the new EU food hygiene legislation. On 1 January three new EU food regulations came into force, consolidating 17 pieces of sector specific legislation dealing with hygiene.

The FSA will also develop a database for food surveillance to hold information for the microbiological and chemical analysis of samples.

Under the system local authority officers would take samples for analysis and submit the data in encrypted format to a laboratory. After sample analysis, the results would be added by the laboratory and then securely downloaded to the local authority and to a centralised food database.

This database system would allow local authorities to hold food, animal feed and non-food sample results in a national database and share the information.

The system would allow local authorities to target their efforts based on risk-based enforcement policies. Issues posing a greater health risk would receive a priority under the system. The proposal could reduce the frequency of food plant inspections, by using policies based on risk.

A five-year contract to develop the system throughout the UK was signed on 1 December last year.

The programme also outlines the benefits of a major consolidation of EU domestic chemical contaminants legislation, which sets maximum levels for mycotoxins and undesirable process and environmental contaminants in certain foodstuffs.

Rationalised national legislation came into effect on 1 January 2006, consolidating the 16 amendments made to the legislation since its adoption on 8 March 2001.

Two EU directives dealing with the use of epoxy derivatives for food contact materials have also been consolidated into one.

The introduction of the regulation revokes in part the Plastic Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations. It also amends the migration limit for hydrolysed epoxy derivatives.

The consolidation also extends the migration limit for hydrolysed epoxy derivatives from 3mg/kg to 9mg/kg. The higher limit is seen by the industry as an opportunity to expand the use of existing products and allow new materials to be developed, the FSA noted.

The regulation came into force in the UK on 9 December.

The plan also contains details of the previously announced policy to merge the current activities of the Wine Standards Board into the FSA.

The outline of a major deregulation programme to replace the over- thirty- month rule (OTM) for cattle entering the human food chain with testing for BSE was also announced previously.

A common commencement date for all new and proposed food legislation is also on the cards.

In March 2005, the UK government published two reports making recommendations for reducing the administrative burdens on businesses and streamlining regulators.

The government and the FSA accepted all the recommendations from both reports.

To make it easier for business and consumers to be aware of new regulations, the FSA has agreed to try to align all new domestic regulations with the government's common commencement dates, 6 April and 1 October.

The FSA will also publish in January an annual statement of all regulations that is introduced during the year. The FSA published its first such statement last month.

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