Washington Insider -- Wednesday

Post Brexit Food Safety in Britain

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

UK's Fox Chides British Media for Focus on Chlorine-Washed Chicken from US

The focus by British media on whether the UK would let in U.S. chicken that is treated with a chlorine wash to prevent pathogens is trivializing the effort to enter into free trade talks with the U.S., UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said in Washington.

"In a debate which should be about how we make our contribution to global liberalization and increase the prosperity of both the UK, the U.S. and our trading partners ... the British media are obsessed with fully washed chickens," Fox said.

Further, that is a topic that will only be addressed in the "very end stage" of those coming trade talks that will not get underway formally until the UK has wrapped up its exit from the European Union (EU).

USDA's Perdue to Bloomberg: Brazil Beef Trade Timeline Not US One

When Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said the U.S. could reopen its market to fresh Brazilian beef within 60 days, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue told Bloomberg that comment was "clearly aimed at a different audience."

Meeting that timeline would be "very challenging" given the U.S. concerns over Brazil's inspection system, Perdue commented in an interview. "We will not allow food in this country that we believe not to be in the best compliance,” Perdue stated.

"We spoke very directly." Given the questions raised about Brazil's inspection system, Perdue said the U.S. wants to "make sure that is rooted out."

Washington Insider: Post Brexit Food Safety in Britain

Food Safety News is reporting this week that Britain is considering a new food safety system “once the United Kingdom is separated by Brexit from the European Food Safety Authority’s mothership in Parma, Italy.”

“Changing the way food businesses are regulated is one of our two key priorities for the years ahead,” FSN cites Heather Hancock, chairman of Britain’s Food Standards Agency, as asserting. She has just published FSA’s plans for changing food regulation in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The case for changing the food regulation system is strong, Hancock claims. “We need to reform the way we regulate to keep up the pace of change in the global food economy: in what we eat, where we consume it, how it reaches us.

Hancock said the plan is the result of 18 months’ debate and discussion with all the stakeholders, including businesses big and small, local authorities, third-party assurers and consumers. “We have developed the blueprint through open policy making, maintaining our principles of openness and transparency to give the public confidence in food safety and standards,” Hancock said in her announcement.

At the heart of the new plan is an enhanced system of registration for all food businesses, the FSA chair said as she described the proposed approach to proportionate, risk-based controls.

She says Britain wants the outcomes from these changes to be a more robust, sustainable regulatory regime, one that sees standards improve in risky businesses, reduces the administrative burden for businesses that demonstrate they are compliant with food law and sees effective enforcement action against food businesses that fail to fulfill their obligations.

“We want to improve relationships with industry, bring a more commercially astute understanding onto our regulatory decisions, and above all ensure that the stringent and robust standards we set help food businesses fulfill their responsibility to produce food that is safe and what it says it is,” she said.

Hancock’s paper envisions a modern, resilient system. Key aspects include an enhanced system of registration for businesses, which will mean securing better information on all businesses “so that we can better identify and manage risk across the food chain.” In addition, she said. “We want to create a hostile environment for those businesses that don’t proactively register, she said.

She believes that the new approach will involve “segmenting businesses in a better way using a range of risk indicators based on wider information about the business, including the information gathered at the point of registration and from other sources.”

At the same time, FSA envisions a system that is more confident that businesses are doing the right thing and that “we will introduce more options for how they prove it.”

She expects that “how robust the information that businesses share is, including their past performance, will set the frequency and type of inspection activity they face.” She thinks this approach will mean that “businesses with a good history of compliance will face a lower burden from regulation,” and thus free up local authority resources to target the businesses that present the greatest risk to public health.

She also expects that FSA will remain committed to its “successful and trusted” Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and will continue to ensure that it is sustainable and could become mandatory in England as it is in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Being proactive, rather than waiting for a crisis, is the responsible approach,” she said. “We want to ensure that food regulation in the future is fit for purpose, anticipates and responds to new, emerging risks, and uses new technology and data to evidence that food businesses are fulfilling their obligations for food to be safe and authentic.”

Hancock said she recognizes that change brings uncertainty and causes concern for some.

“We have the time and skills to work together on the details, continuing to try out options and learn from tests, so that when the fully reformed system is in place after 2020, we can all be confident that it is robust, sustainable, and delivers the benefits that the public and business rightly expect,” she said.

So, we will see. Hancock’s proposals seem to be considerably more promising than the EU’s reliance on the “precautionary principle” that frequently allows politics to trump science. Still, the Hancock approach is significantly different than that formerly used by the EU and will be bitterly opposed in some quarters. It has more than a little promise of helping open the British food markets to U.S. products—markets that have formerly been both difficult and limited by long entrenched, politically based food regulations, Washington Insider believes.

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