This Briefing provides an overview of food safety law in the UK, and the bodies involved in overseeing and regulating food safety. It then examines the possible implications of the UK’s departure from the EU for food safety, including regarding the functions currently performed by the European Food Safety Authority and the impact of possible new trade deals.Jump to full report >>
Food safety law in the UK includes both domestic legislation and directly applicable EU legislation. The central UK legislation governing food safety is the Food Safety Act 1990, and the general principles and requirements of EU food law are contained in Regulation (EC) 178/2002, known as the General Food Law Regulation. Other directly applicable EU regulations concern, inter alia, food labelling, ingredients and residue limits, food hygiene and organic status. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, would preserve all existing EU legislation in UK law so that “as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply on the day after the UK leaves the EU as before”.
Food safety regulation and enforcement takes place at both an EU and national level. A large proportion of food safety risk assessment is carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Once risk has been assessed, decisions about how to manage risk are taken by the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, acting on proposals by the Commission. Other bodies, such as the European Union Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, also play a role in maintaining food standards. The UK’s Food Standards Agency governs food safety in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by proposing regulation and legislation, supervising enforcement and running communications campaigns.
After the UK leaves the EU, it will cease to automatically be a part of ESFA and other EU food safety bodies. In a recent statement, the Government said that “options for the future of risk assessment and scientific advice in the UK are currently being developed by the Government […] Requirements will depend on the nature of the relationship the UK has with the European Food Safety Authority once the UK leaves the EU”. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill would give ministers the power to transfer the functions of EU authorities to UK public authorities.
Concerns have been expressed that the UK’s animal welfare standards in food production could be compromised in order to achieve free trade agreements; for example, witnesses to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee highlighted areas in which US standards diverge from EU standards. However, in evidence to the same Committee, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, stated that there were certain food standards on which the UK would not compromise.
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