E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

FSA planning to reduce both local authority food inspections and meat hygiene inspections.

13th January 2022

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is planning to reduce both local authority food inspections and meat hygiene inspections according to recent FSA board papers and consultations under their transformation programme, which aims to turn them into a modern regulator.

Local authority food inspections

The FSA Board considered and approved a paper dated/numbered “21-12-05” (Click here) at their board meeting on 8th December 2021 under their “ACHIEVING BUSINESS COMPLIANCE (ABC) PROGRAMME. The objective of this paper was to note the progress made with plans to pilot a new enterprise level regulatory approach, which is currently where the ten largest supermarkets in England already have a primary local authority where their head office is located. This mainly is for advice etc. on food hygiene and safety related issues.

Under this new proposed scheme, they appear to want to make the primary authority responsible for the inspections of each company’s premises. However, if for example the head office is in London, how will they physically inspect a store in Leeds? The FSA has called this “Enterprise Level Regulation”.

Discussions about the pilot scheme are already underway with Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose and discussions are planned with Asda, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Iceland.

The FSA state on page 2 of this board paper “Through our analysis, we have identified ten food retail businesses with c95% total UK grocery sales, and consequential influence across the food system”.

I believe the issues surrounding food safety under these proposals should be of concern for consumers due to the estimated 95% of UK grocery sales that these supermarkets have.

The FSA appear to presume that larger businesses are less of a risk. Risk is normally defined as likelihood and severity.

Whilst larger type businesses possibly have less likelihood, due to their ability to have better safety management in place, their severity can be far more due to the number of consumers they supply as indicated above. This has been demonstrated on a number of foodborne outbreaks.

In this Board paper the wording “consequential influence” was used but what does it mean? Does it mean that the larger food businesses have influence over the regulator?  In this case the FSA, when it comes to deciding issues around food safety etc. Given that the FSA was set up to protect the public from the worst practices of the food industry, why are they considering this?

The Board member for Wales at this board meeting raised his committee’s concerns at the use of the word influential when referring to the ten largest supermarkets or businesses, as they believed the ordinary person in the street would assume that these businesses were influencing the Agency rather than just being the largest companies in the food retail grocery sector.

The chair of the board agreed to have this wording looked at.

We must however remember that all large businesses have the capability to lobby government if and when protecting their own interests.  

This board paper also states that the FSA estimate that approximately 7% of food businesses selling on line were potentially not registered and therefore this means not subject to food safety and hygiene checks.

Meat Hygiene inspections

Last year in the summer time the FSA Consulted on the Early Proposals for a Future Delivery Model for FSA-Delivered Official Controls in the Meat Sector.

Effectively the industry will be marking its own work by carrying out their own daily inspection activities.

There is also no evidence to suggest what the FSA state on page 10 of this consultation “Demonstrable joint initiatives will make it easier for businesses to understand their role in the food system, which should help to improve compliance and drive higher levels of consumer confidence and trust”.

If compliance is not presently occurring in some Food Businesses, the regulator in this case, the FSA should be addressing the problem with the individual company concerned.

Also, if this proposal goes ahead in terms of any inspections or assurance by Food Businesses or their third party’s assurance schemes, will all the data gathered from these be made available to the public?

The above changes will be brought in slowly chipping away bit by bit so it will appear that no changes are being made until it becomes the norm.

We have had BSE and the Horse Meat Scandal etc. yet we appear not to have learned any lessons.

The planned changes to the above Local authority food inspections and Meat Hygiene inspections are symptomatic of Government trying to reduce food safety and standards.

This is borne out by government, through its departments such as Department of Environment food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) also trying to encourage genetically modified, genetically edited, factory bread meat and plant-based food and imports with lower standards etc, without fully considering their impact on public health and traceability etc.

Whilst the above may or not be beneficial, the public deserve enough information to make an informed choice, which I believe they have not had to date.

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