The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has conceded some work it had planned will be delayed or not done at all but has insisted a focus on reducing foodborne disease will continue.
A work plan for 2022 to 2023 financial year has been changed because of added demands faced by the agency. These include involvement in the Genetic Technology Bill and the Retained EU Law Bill, which requires the FSA to review about 150 pieces of legislation by 2023.
The latter proposal seeks to remove all EU law from UK legislation unless action is taken to preserve, reform, or restate rules before the end of 2023. FSA expects to advise ministers to preserve or extend the date up to 2026 for the majority of retained EU law. It has not yet identified any pieces of regulation that should be removed entirely.
During a board meeting, agency officials warned the situation may have to be revisited in the future and other cuts made because of resource constraints. One piece of good news is that planned headcount reduction targets will no longer be imposed.
Meat, dairy, and wine inspection; dealing with incidents; overseeing local authorities, and advising on food safety risks will continue as will reforms to local authority assurance of food standards and food hygiene.
A focus will be kept on reducing foodborne diseases and planned changes to laboratory capacity. However, moving staff from other teams to work on the Genetic Technology Bill resulted in a delay in a review of the foodborne disease framework.
Tackling food fraud and getting new powers for the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is unaffected. But an update to an assessment of food crime has been put back from 2023 to at least spring 2024.
Slower work in a range of areas
A project to directly employ some Official Veterinarians (OVs) to do official controls in abattoirs has been put on hold. The annual report on food standards published by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) will also have a reduced scope in its second edition.
Paused items may not resume until at least the start of the financial year 2023 to 2024 and are likely to be on hold for longer.
Examples include a consultation and legislation on making the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) mandatory in England and changes to the enforcement approach for Qurbani meat controls.
Planned reviews on food safety guidance for businesses such as food handlers’ fitness to work, vacuum packing and Clostridium botulinum and pet food production in approved establishments have been suspended.
Work on Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL) will now take longer and food hypersensitivity reform has been impacted as have plans to look at health and sustainability.
The science team will support border reform, the PATH-SAFE project, and a review of EU laws. Risk analysis to help policy decisions will continue around incidents and as part of changing lab plans and sampling programs.
However, the number of commissioned projects will reduce, meaning the evidence base will grow more slowly than in previous years. The volume of routine risk analysis work and the pace of delivery in certain areas are also affected.
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