Brexit Uncertainty Cause for Concern for Regulating EU Food Safety

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

By Erica Sheward

Events relating to the decision made by UK citizens in 2016 to leave the EU have dominated British politics over recent months, generating heated debate, uneasy alliances and a great deal of uncertainty, particularly for those in the food industry who are wondering what the implications all this will have on food safety regulations.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for BREXIT must win cross-party agreement in the UK Parliament since, without the support of Parliament, the country faces crashing out of the EU with no deal whatsoever. It’s been a dramatic time in British political history: the Prime Minister’s initial plan was, in fact, rejected, giving her the distinction of suffering the worst defeat by a British Prime Minister in modern history.

The majority of regulations relating to food and drink quality, safety and standards, originate from the EU.

Brexit and the Food Industry

The majority of regulations relating to food and drink quality, safety and standards, originate from the EU. The implications for the food industry in the event of acceptance of a new deal would be a transition period when the UK would continue to observe all EU regulations and continue to accept in-bound goods that are in compliance with them. During that time the UK would seek to establish which EU food regulations it wishes to retain as a wholesale part of UK law and which it wishes to reject and/or amend.

In this scenario the impact on UK and inter-European trade would be minimal during the transitional period. However, there would be significant rounds of consultation and important engagement activity for the food industry to be involved in during this time to ensure that any amendments/deviations from EU rules proposed during the transition period are appropriate for the sectors to which they relate. It is likely that one size will not fit all and that what may seem benign for one sector could be game changing for another.

No-Deal Scenarios

If an agreed-upon deal cannot be approved by the British Parliament the situation could deteriorate to a point where there is essentially no way to predict what would happen next. Several “no deal scenarios” have been suggested, all of which would inevitably result in serious delays to any goods in transit at all borders and all ports. For short shelf-life products and an industry which operates on “just in time” schedules, this would be extremely challenging and inevitably disruptive, with some very large implications for food safety logistics.

At this point, it is frankly anyone’s guess as to what could happen next and on that basis it would be unhelpful to speculate. What is certain is that the UK and its trading partners throughout the world are facing a level of political uncertainty rarely seen before in the Western world. For the food industry, which provides vital products and services and trades them on a pan-European scale, this level of uncertainty is proving to be unwelcome. Until clarity and certainty return it is essential that businesses trading their goods into the EU/UK keep up to date with events as they unfold, track the ensuing impact and make provision to be as agile in the response to such events as possible.

 

About the Author

Erica Sheward is VP of Business Development at Leatherhead Food Research – a world class consultancy providing regulatory and compliance advice, and support to the global food and drink sector. We cover all stages of a product’s life cycle from consumer insight, ingredient innovation and sensory testing to food safety consultancy and global regulatory advice. Leatherhead operates a membership program which represents a who’s who of the global food and drinks industry.