The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee have heard significant uncertainty still exists over the UK’s relationship with the EU on food safety issues from 29 March.
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.
Taking evidence from Public Health Minister Steve Brine MP and Food Standards Agency chair Heather Hancock yesterday, the Committee heard that significant preparations had been made and were largely reassured that the UK would be ready from 29 March.
If, however, a withdrawal agreement is reached, the Committee heard 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.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) undertakes food safety risk assessments on behalf of the EU, but Members heard that the UK’s participation in EFSA (and access to its risk assessment information) during a transition period had yet to be negotiated.
It is also unknown whether the UK would continue to be allowed to attend meetings of the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, which makes the majority of decisions on how EU Member States should respond to food safety risks.
Continued access to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, a key mechanism for sharing food safety risk information between Member States, is also still ‘subject to negotiations’.
Lord Teverson, chair of the Committee, said: “We understand that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal it will have to assess and manage food safety risks itself, and we were reassured by the extent of the preparations that the Food Standards Agency have undertaken in this regard.
“But the other possible scenario from 29 March, which is in just over three weeks’ time, is that we enter into a transition period. 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.”