Brexit import control and lack of resources identified as problems

A reduction in food inspections due to lack of resources and a delay in UK import controls after Brexit of high-risk food and feed from the EU are among the concerns highlighted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in a new report.

posted this week Our Food: An annual review of food standards in the the inaugural report launched by the FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

The first in a series of reports to be published annually, it is part of an ongoing commitment to transparency, keeping parliamentarians, trading partners and consumers at home and abroad abreast of developments and challenges in the UK food system.

The first annual report comes after the food system has experienced two years of major upheaval following the UK’s exit from the EU, the Covid-19 pandemic and, most recently, disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine.

Despite this significant pressure, the report concludes with some caution that food standards in the UK have largely been maintained. However, while there are no signs of lowering standards, the report warns of trouble ahead.

The two main problems identified are the reduction in the number of inspections of food processing enterprises due to the lack of resources faced by local authorities.

Second, the delay in introducing full UK import controls on high-risk food and feed from the EU has reduced the ability to prevent unsafe food from entering the UK market.

“This first joint report reflects a period during which there has been significant concern about the impact of world events on food standards and safety,” said Professor Susan Jebb, FSA Chair.

“It is reassuring to UK consumers and our international trading partners that this report provides confidence that the high food standards we enjoy in the UK have been met at a truly challenging time for the food system.

“However, the effects of recent major developments are still being felt and will continue to impact our food systems for many years to come.

“We have no illusions that serious challenges lie ahead of us. Establishing full UK control over food imports from the EU by the end of next year is a priority. The longer the UK goes without assurance that products from the EU meet our high food and feed safety standards, the less confidence we can have that we can effectively detect potential safety incidents.

“As noted in the report, the number of inspections by local authorities has decreased over the reporting period. While there are signs of improvement, especially with regard to health and hygiene inspections, local governments continue to face resource constraints, which could hinder progress.

“We, along with our partners in government, must ensure that the current problems in the food system are addressed in such a way that we are on the path to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food system in the future.”

DAERA Minister Edwin Putts said: “I welcome the publication of the first joint Food Standards Agency and Scotland report on food standards, Our Food 2021.

“This is a very timely and important review which once again highlights the high standards of food in the UK and also recognizes the challenges ahead, especially with the current cost of living crisis.

“I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Food Standards Agency and industry partners to ensure that safe, healthy, nutritious and sustainable food is delivered.”

Welcoming the publication of the report, The Food Foundation expressed concern about inflationary pressures on food.

“This report re-emphasizes worrying trends we’ve already noticed: people are concerned about food price inflation and the growing difficulty in providing a healthy diet,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation.

“It says malnutrition is responsible for 13% of all deaths and four times as many people are living with obesity compared to 1980.

“The report also shows that many teens are consuming about two and a half times more sugar than the recommended maximum intake, and gives equally grim figures for excessive consumption of saturated fat and salt.

“There is an urgent need to find new ways to help everyone access healthy food. This should be reflected in the forthcoming white paper on health disparities.”