FSA Consultation Letter, 19 May 2005
Comments are sought on draft Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Amendment) ( England ) Regulations 2005. These would amend the current butchers' licensing arrangements by removing the requirement that any such licences remain in force for a period of one year. Responses are requested by: 11 August 2005
For a copy of the document, see: Draft Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2005
The effect of this change would be that, from the date the Statutory Instrument comes into force, the validity of current butchers' shop licences in England would automatically be extended (regardless of any expiry date that may be mentioned in them). This would mean that existing licences would remain in force until the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 2005 take effect, thereby bringing butchers licensing arrangements formally to an end. The intention would be to have these measures in place in time so they achieve the desired outcome in relation to the upcoming licensing round.
There is separate butchers licensing legislation in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland , and arrangements in those countries are being handled separately.
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 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 food authority. Licensable butchers must satisfy certain hygiene conditions, in addition to general food hygiene requirements, before a licence can be issued. Licences, issued by local Food Authorities, cost £100 and remain in force for a period of one year.
New EU hygiene regulations taking effect from 1 January 2006 introduce requirements substantially equivalent to the current butchers licensing requirements, including a HACCP procedures requirement for all food businesses. In consequence, the national butchers' licensing legislation is being withdrawn from that date.
Current butchers' licensing requirements specify that a licence lasts for 12 months and that the issuing authority must impose a fee of £100. Applications must be received at least 28 days in advance, but may be received up to 4 months in advance. The legislation was introduced in May 2000, and licences were required from 1 November 2000 . Licences issued in the transitional period started from 1 November 2000, and as a result the vast majority of the 9,213 licensed butchers in England fall to be licensed on or around 1 November each year.
The Agency has received representations from industry and enforcement authorities that a means needs to be found to end licensing in a way that delivers fair charges for businesses, a balanced approach to bureaucracy and a consistent approach across the country. Unless the licensing system is amended, most licensed butchers will be required to obtain new licences, at a cost of £100, to cover the November/December 2005 period.
Against this background, the Agency has considered 3 options, bearing in mind the paramount need to maintain public health protection.
Option A: Do nothing
This would not address the representations. Butchers would have to undertake the application process and pay the £100 fee for a licence that will not be required after the end of this year. LAs would have to decide whether to issue the licences. Although they would be free to waive the fee if they wish, they could be asked to justify any such decision eg by a district auditor. LAs could also choose to ignore other aspects of the regulations but would be open to Judicial Review. This option would maintain the existing level of public health protection.
Option B: Licence, as normal, but remove the fee
This would provide consistency, reduce costs for businesses and ensure standards in butcher shops are maintained. But it would not address the administrative burdens associated with submitting applications and deciding whether to issue the licences. LAs would not be able to recover any of their administration costs. Any new businesses would be able to obtain a licence free of charge.
Option C: Extend the duration of existing licences to 31 December 2005
This would mean there would be no need for currently licensed businesses to submit applications or pay a fee. LAs would not need to decide whether to issue licences that would last only about 2 months. This option would significantly reduce the cost and administrative burden on butchers and local authorities while ensuring continuity of public health protection by retaining the butchers' licensing conditions unaltered until the new hygiene rules take effect. Any new businesses would apply and pay the fee in the current way.
The Agency has considered whether a non-regulatory approach would be possible to achieve Option C. It has concluded that, because it is legislation which, for example, both imposes the statutory duty on LAs to charge a fee of £100, and sets out the duration of the licence, that a regulatory route cannot be avoided.
The Agency considers that it would constitute an unjustifiable burden on businesses and LAs, bearing in mind butchers licensing is being withdrawn at the end of the year, to insist upon a full licensing round as would be necessary under existing legislation.
Option C is considered by the FSA to offer the best balance between protecting public health and responding positively to the concerns expressed about bureaucracy and costs associated with a system that is being brought to an end. The Agency is therefore consulting on a proposal for legislation to give effect to Option C, and a draft Statutory Instrument is available for comment. With this approach, Local authorities would not need to take any action to extend the validity of current licences, regardless of any time limit that may have been mentioned in the licence itself. This is because the effect of the Statutory Instrument is to remove the requirement for any licences to remain in force for a period of one year, effectively nullifying any time limit applied in current licences.
If the FSA does propose to Ministers to regulate in the way indicated, we will also need to have considered how best to publicise the legislation concerned, and its effect. Your views on how we might approach this are also most welcome.