The UK will almost certainly lose access to the EU’s food safety alert system after Brexit, a government minister has admitted.
Public Health Minister Steve Brine told the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee that while the UK’s preferred position was to negotiate full access to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) through which EU member states share information about potential food safety risks, the reality is that third country access is limited compared with full members.
Brine did, however, say that the UK will continue to use high level information from public facing RASFF portals after 29 March, adding that the UK was increasing its engagement with the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) of national food safety authorities, managed jointly by FAO and WHO.
As a member state, the UK is part of EU-wide food safety risk assessment, risk management, inspection, audit and information sharing mechanisms. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it will no longer be part of those systems and will have to undertake those functions domestically.
FSA chair Heather Hancock told the Lords Committee that the FSA has already taken a number of steps to build a better understanding of supply chain risks including signing an agreement with the Food Industry Intelligence Network (FIIN) for the exchange of information.
Hancock noted that the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) has increased in size to 80 personnel and has added an investigative capability.
She added that the FSA has also been investing in new approaches to surveillance “to put us on the front foot”, giving the example of models that have been built to predict where the aflatoxin risk is likely to be highest in imported food. Aflatoxins are poisonous carcinogens that can contaminate common foods when they have been improperly stored.
The Lords Committee said they were “largely reassured” that UK food safety systems would be ready from 29 March, but expressed concern that it has still not been agreed how the UK would relate to EU food safety systems through a transition period, which could begin in less than four weeks’ time.
“During this time we will be required to follow the EU’s food safety rules and regulations, but we discovered today that the UK Government has no idea whether we will have full access to EU risk assessments, or any access to their surveillance and information sharing mechanisms. This is deeply concerning,” said Lord Teverson, chair of the Committee.