Food Law News - UK - 2004

FSA Consultation Letter, 15 December 2004

LICENSING - The future of butcher shop licensing in England

Views are sought to help inform Food Standards Agency policy on the future of butcher shop licensing in England . Responses are requested by: 17 February 2005

Consultation details

The purpose of this consultation is to draw your attention to the need to consider the future of the national licensing requirement for butchers' shops selling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat foods. Unless the UK makes new butchers' licensing provisions, the current requirement will cease on 1 January 2006 when new EC food hygiene legislation takes effect. This paper outlines the issues and invites your comments. The results of this consultation, together with those of separate consultations in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland , will be analysed and recommendations on the future of butchers' licensing in the UK will be put to the FSA Board for consideration at its meeting on 10 March 2005 .

This consultation relates only to decisions that need to be taken in relation to butcher shop licensing and is without prejudice to the issue of licensing or prior approval of food premises more generally.

Responses are required by 17 February 2005 . Please state in your reply whether you are responding as a private individual or on behalf of an organisation/company. This initial consultation will last nine weeks. In the event that it was decided to make new legislation to continue the current butchers' licensing scheme beyond 1 January 2006 , there would be a further full 12-week consultation on the details of any agreed proposals.


Butcher shop licensing was introduced in England in May 2000 following a recommendation of the Pennington Group, which examined the fatal outbreak of E.coli O157 food poisoning in Central Scotland in 1996. The Pennington Group recommended the licensing of butcher shops as a temporary measure pending the introduction of a HACCP requirement for all food businesses through EU legislation. The licensing rules require all retail butchers selling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food to be licensed by their local district council. Butchers must satisfy certain hygiene conditions over and above the current EU General Food Hygiene Directive (93/43/EEC) before a licence can be issued. Licences cost £100 and must be renewed annually. The issuing district council retains the licence fee.


The butchers' licensing requirement was enacted by an amendment to the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 . A public consultation launched by the Agency on 11 October 2004 indicated that several national hygiene regulations, including the General Food Hygiene Regulations, would be revoked on 1 January 2006 to make way for new EU food hygiene legislation. Revocation of the General Food Hygiene Regulations will have the effect of removing the butchers' licensing requirement unless the UK specifically makes new national provisions to continue this arrangement beyond the end of 2005.


There are effectively two options:

Option 1: apply the new EU hygiene regulations to retail butchers handling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food.

This legal requirement will apply automatically on 1 January 2006 to all food businesses, including this group of butchers. These butchers would then be subject to the specific hygiene requirements in Regulation (EC) 852/2004 and the relevant national requirements, including temperature control, in the draft Food Hygiene ( England ) Regulations 2005, which the Agency issued for consultation on 11 October this year. The general requirement for supervision and training and/or instruction of food handlers in Annex II, Chapter XII of Regulation (EC) 852/2004 would apply.

Taking this option would mean not extending the current butchers' licensing arrangements. As a consequence of this, from 1 January 2006 , butchers handling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food would not require a licence to operate, although they would still have to register with their local district council, as is currently required. It also follows that there would be no requirement for mandatory food handler training, unlike in the current licensing legislation. Local authority inspections would be conducted at a frequency established in accordance with the food hygiene inspection rating scheme set out in the Food Safety Act 1990 Code of Practice . Butchers that are licensed at present would be subject to the same hygiene requirements and enforcement controls as other retail and catering businesses.

Option 2: make new national provisions to continue licensing of retail butchers handling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food beyond 1 January 2006 in addition to the new EU hygiene legislation.

The same licensing conditions would apply as now except that the conditions relating to compliance with general hygiene requirements, the operation of HACCP-based procedures and HACCP training, would be those in Regulation (EC) 852/2004. The condition to comply with temperature control requirements would relate to the requirements set out in schedule 4 of the draft Food Hygiene ( England ) Regulations 2005. The requirement for mandatory training of food handlers in licensed butchers' shops would be maintained. As now, licences would cost £100 and have to be renewed annually by application to the local district council. As indicated above, the licensing requirement would apply in addition to the new EU hygiene legislation. It would be necessary to notify the European Commission and the EU Member States of any proposal to make new butchers' licensing requirements which introduce requirements in addition to those in the directly applicable EU hygiene legislation, for example food handler training.

Specific questions and issues

Public health considerations

What would the public health justification be for making new butchers' licensing requirements?

Although making new licensing requirements as in option 2 would be a continuation of an existing legal requirement, the justification would need to be set out in a Regulatory Impact Assessment and would be subject to Better Regulation scrutiny by the Cabinet Office. The Food Safety Act provisions allowing Ministers to make licensing legislation are tightly drawn, and any proposal to make new butchers' licensing provisions would need a clear public health justification.

Butchers' licensing was introduced to improve public health protection through stricter hygiene controls on butchers than were required under general food hygiene legislation at the time of the Central Scotland outbreak. The Pennington Group recommended licensing as a temporary measure until such time as HACCP principles applied to all food businesses. With the exception of primary production, the new EU hygiene regulations require the application of HACCP-based procedures across the food chain from 1 January 2006 .

Independent evaluations of butchers' licensing commissioned by the FSA show that the initiative has had a good measure of success in raising hygiene standards and supporting the application of HACCP-based procedures. Arguably, butchers are now better placed than many small retail and catering businesses to comply with the forthcoming EU regulations, especially the operation of documented HACCP-based procedures. It becomes important, therefore, to consider whether licensing as envisaged by the Pennington Group has served its purpose.

One potential public health consideration is whether a new licensing provision could help consolidate and maintain the improvements that licensed butchers have achieved in recent years. It would mean that any butcher – including butchers who are not at present licensed because they only handle raw meat – would be required to satisfy the necessary hygiene standards before commencing to trade in unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food. The discipline of having to renew licences annually would provide a strong incentive for butchers to maintain standards on an ongoing basis. The power to suspend or withdraw a licence for a breach of conditions would remain an important deterrent against falling standards. That said, however, we are not aware of any evidence to suggest that standards in butcher shops overall would necessarily slip if licensing were discontinued. And other emergency sanctions are available in food law to enforce closure of a food business that poses a risk to human health.

The new EU hygiene regulations introduce substantially equivalent hygiene requirements on all food businesses. This raises the question as to whether these rules, together with those in the draft This raises the question as to whether these rules, together with those in the draft Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2005, provide an equivalent level of public health protection to that available under the current butchers' licensing regime. The current and new legal requirements for butchers are compared in the document available from the link at the foot of this page.

The only significant difference between the new EU regulations and the current butchers' licensing conditions is the mandatory requirement in the latter for food handlers in licensed butcher shops to receive hygiene training. Under option 1, butchers would be subject to the general requirement for all food handlers to be instructed and/or trained in food hygiene commensurate with their duties. This is more flexible than now, but would nevertheless require that butcher shop personnel have sufficient knowledge and skill to operate in a hygienic way. A further question is, therefore, whether new licensing legislation could be justified solely to maintain the mandatory training requirement when the general training requirement in the EU regulations is considered appropriate for all other food businesses.

We would welcome your views on these public health considerations and questions.

Are there any other public health aspects that we have not identified which need to be taken into account?

Better regulation issues

(i) How would new butchers' licensing requirements match up with Better Regulation principles?

Government policy is that proposals for new legislation must target the specific problem or issue and be proportionate to the risk. Exceptional reasons would be needed to justify gold plating the EU requirements. Gold plating is when legislation goes beyond the minimum necessary to comply with an EU requirement.

New licensing requirements as in option 2 would continue to target those butchers for which licensing was originally introduced. The following points merit reflection:

The Pennington recommendation envisaged licensing as a ‘stopgap' measure until businesses fully apply HACCP principles, which will be a requirement from 1 January 2006

There is evidence that hygiene standards in butchers have improved as a result of the licensing initiative and there is a question as to whether enforcement resources would now be better directed towards raising standards in other businesses

The new EU hygiene regulations provide a substantially equivalent level of public health protection to the current butchers' licensing arrangements

The proportionality of using licensing essentially as a way of imposing conditions on butchers that already apply to them under EU legislation

We would welcome views on the points mentioned above.

(ii) The cost of new butchers' licensing requirements

Maintaining licensing as in option 2 would continue to impose burdens on butchers handling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food, and on local district councils responsible for enforcing the requirements. The main costs to butchers would be the £100 licensing fee, which we estimate would cost UK industry approximately £1.3 million per annum. Other costs, such as for compulsory hygiene training for food handlers and time preparing annual licence applications, would also be incurred. There is an issue about the extent to which continuing to levy a licence fee on butchers, but not on other retail or catering sectors subject to identical EU provisions, is equitable.

Option 1 would leave butchers handling both unwrapped raw meat and ready to eat food under the same food safety requirements and controls as other retail and catering food businesses from 1 January 2006 . There would be no new compliance costs as these butchers have operated to substantially equivalent requirements since 2000. The £100 licence fee would no longer be payable to local authorities.

We would welcome your thoughts on these cost implications and on any other cost-related aspects not identified above?

Other considerations

We would welcome comments on any other aspects not covered above.

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