This report describes the key changes in food standards from 2019 to 2021, a period when the UK’s food system was affected by our departure from the EU and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food standards, of course, mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this report, The Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland looked at standards in two ways:
1. Food and feed safety (including allergen management) – that is, ensuring the product is safe to consume, or, in the case of feed, safe for introduction into the food chain. A number of factors are taken into account when proposing safety standards, including advice from the FSA and FSS risk assessors and wider experts as well as other aspects such as the principles that may determine consumer
acceptability of risk.
2. Other standards that support consumers and provide assurance – this includes provenance and authenticity, production standards (for example, animal welfare and sustainability), composition and nutritional content, labelling and advertising of food, and other information that enables consumers to make informed choices based on the values that are important to them.
The evidence set out in this report suggests that overall food safety standards have largely been maintained during 2021. However, this is a cautious conclusion. The pandemic disrupted regular inspections, sampling and audits across the food system, reducing the amount of data we can draw upon in assessing business compliance against food law requirements. It also changed patterns of consumer behaviour. While food safety standards have largely been maintained, both organisations recognise there are significant risks ahead.
The report highlights two particular areas of concern:
- Firstly there has been a fall in the level of local authority inspections of food businesses. The situation is in the process of being repaired – in particular in food hygiene inspections of cafés and restaurants – but progress is being constrained by resource and the availability of qualified professionals.
- The second is in relation to the import of food from the EU. To enhance levels of assurance on higher-risk EU food like meat, dairy and eggs, and food and feed that has come to the UK via the EU, it is essential that improved controls are put in place to the timescale that the UK Government has set out (by the end of 2023). The longer the UK operates without assurance from the exporting country that products meet the UK’s high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we can be that we can effectively identify potential safety incidents. It is vital that the UK has the ability to prevent entry of unsafe food and identify and respond to changing risks. Although we have considered these challenges carefully and put other arrangements within our control in place, they are not, in our view, sufficient. We are therefore committed to working with government departments to ensure that the introduction of these improved import controls provides high levels of protection for UK consumers.
Read full report.