In 2016, we saw a surprising increase in foreign contaminant issues affecting the food and beverage sector.
The concerning issue about these recalls is that many could have been easily avoided with improved food safety protocols to include technology based products (e.g. X-ray testing), improved sampling of products, supplier management, regular maintenance checks and replacement of old equipment.
As such, the US Food and Drug Administration is continuing its efforts to put more stringent regulations into place.
But where will the UK stand once Article 50 is put into motion?
One model has suggested that if the UK wants direct access to the 27 member countries of the EU, then under a so-called European Economic Agreement, it will have little option but to implement into its national law, existing EU statute and new EU food directives.
A second option would be to adopt multiple separate bilateral treaties with the EU in order to gain preferential access to that market.
In this case, there would be little pressure on the UK to implement EU food law, either in its current state or as it is introduced into law in the future.
The implications of this are that the UK could develop its own food law system.
A potential insight into how the UK food safety law system will respond to the Brexit decision was provided by a recent announcement by Heather Hancock, chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
“We will move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, to tailored and proportionate regulation that reflects relative risk, reinforces accountability and delivers more for public health,” she said.
The EU and China
It was recently announced the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the China National Centre for Food Risk Assessment (CFSA) are combining their efforts to advance knowledge and expertise in areas of food safety assurance.
The close working relationship with Europe will build on China’s recently adopted New (13th) Five Year Plan, which makes emphasis on issues like food security and food safety.
It’s been estimated by academics, including Li Chunhua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that food safety issues, such as the effects of pollution, chemicals, antibiotics, poor supply chains and bad governance, could incur costs of $750m and the loss of 10,000 food sector worker posts.
Hopefully, the introduction of new updated risk based food safety legislation and collaborative partnerships with European food experts will contribute to improvements in China.
In September 2016, the first major compliance milestone for preventive controls for human and animal food was introduced.
In accordance with the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), larger businesses must implement Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements (CGMPs).
According to Joann Givens, director of FDA’s Food and Feed Program, this is new territory for food companies.
“For years we’ve been talking about the FSMA rulemakings and our implementation plans. Now, an important compliance date is here for some companies.
“As we enter this new chapter, the FDA’s primary focus will continue to be on education, training and technical assistance to help companies comply with the new requirements,” she said.
While FDA officials are mindful of the need to work with the food industry to create a culture of food safety and compliance, emphasis will also be on protecting public health by acting swiftly and proportionately to address areas of non-compliance.
It leaves us wondering just how closely UK regulatory officials will work with companies within its own borders to lessen the risks?