Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - UK - 2018

Commission Report, 2 February 2018

OFFICIAL CONTROLS - Report on Fact Finding Mission to the Unitied Kingdom to Assess Synergies of Official Controls

Final report of a fact-finding mission carried out in the United Kingdom from 04 October 2017 to 12 October 2017 in order to gather information concerning synergies of official controls with food business operators' own-checks and third party certification schemes

This report has been published by the Commission's Health and Food Audits and Analysis Unit. The Executive Summary is given below. The full report can be accessed by clicking on the image above.

Executive Summary

This report describes the outcome of a fact-finding mission of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety in the United Kingdom carried out from 4 to 12 October 2017, as part of its planned work programme.

The objective of the mission was to gather information on the way and the extent to which the competent authorities take account of results of own-checks systems and third party assurance schemes in organising official controls in food of animal and non-animal origin.

Synergies between third party certification schemes and official controls have been in place in the United Kingdom for many years. Under the programme Earned Recognition, the Food Standards Agency recognises membership and certification for certain schemes for the purpose of reducing the frequency of official controls. Requirements of the programme and obligations of the parties involved, namely the Food Standards Agency and the scheme concerned, are laid down in memoranda of understanding signed by the parties.

Both the Food Standards Agency and the schemes concerned have introduced measures to ensure the reliability of the information obtained. Some good practices were identified concerning measures put in place by scheme owners or certification bodies to enhance the quality and reliability of the performance and results of their auditors.

The approved assurance element of the Earned Recognition programme is, to date, limited to the primary production sector; however, the Food Standards Agency is currently exploring the feasibility and possibility of extending this system to cover also the transformation sector by granting recognition to additional third party certification schemes. The system as implemented has led to reductions in the frequency of official controls, freeing resources for focusing on other areas.

The degree of reduction in the frequency of official controls was not always the same across the United Kingdom, even though the same commodities were concerned. In some cases, the frequencies established, effectively mean that some food business operators will never be subject to an official control in a lifetime.

Apart from the formalised arrangements for Earned Recognition through membership of recognised schemes in the primary production sector, official controls are delivered on the basis of risk grading of food business operators in accordance with a scoring matrix laid down in the Food Law – Code of Practice. While this code provides for taking into account membership of food producing establishments (transformation sector) to non-recognised schemes, the allocated points do not influence the final risk categorisation in a significant manner.

The major food retail chains have in place their own individual firm food safety standards for their suppliers of own-label brand products. These individual standards go beyond the standards of the schemes considered as a pre-requisite for food business operators for gaining market access, and often include elements of animal welfare, environmental issues, sustainability, as well as specific product quality standards. Since these bespoke individual standards are often used for advertising purposes of own-label brand products, they fuel the competition between large food retail chains.

Food retail chains compete against each other by constantly introducing new standards and requirements aimed at exceeding those of their competitors. These are subject to frequent verification by means of second party audits to their suppliers.

Although synergies between official controls and third party certification schemes have led to a reduction of official controls and savings of resources by the competent authorities, they do not necessarily contribute to a reduction on the burden of food business operators. This is because official controls constitute only a minor part of the scrutiny the food business operators are subject to throughout a year, compared with the controls carried out on behalf of food retail chains.

The Food Standards Agency is currently working on a project called "Regulating our Future" aimed at redesigning the way official controls are delivered.

As this was a fact-finding mission, the report contains no recommendations to the competent authorities.

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