FSA to cut red tape

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is planning to slash millions off the cost of running food businesses, by cutting administration costs associated with complying with regulations.

A proposal published by the FSA sets a target of reducing administrative costs by £11.9m by 2010.

An FSA study estimates that as of May 2005 the costs incurred complying with food regulations were £86m. Of this £86m, £38.6m is incurred complying with the requirements of the EU or international law over which member states have little or no discretion, £45m is incurred complying with the requirements of the EU or international law over which member states have some discretion, and £2.4m is incurred complying with domestic regulations.

Therefore the FSA can only act on the costs incurred by businesses complying with regulations it has control over.

A executive summary of the September 2006 FSA board meeting, at which the proposals were discussed, acknowledges the problem: "...we are aware of the burdens that regulation and enforcement place on others. Our experience and that of others indicates that it is possible, across a range of areas, to reduce both administrative and policy burdens, without compromising the outcomes for public health protection."

A report for the FSA found that of the 53 FSA regulations that affect food businesses, seven account for 91% of the administration burden, and three of those are directly related to meat: Meat Products (England) Regulations 2003, Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, and Meat Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1994.

The three most expensive information regulations to conform to are: keeping records; statutory labelling for third parties; and returns and reports. The three most expensive administration regulations are: gathering and assessing relevant information; familiarising with regulatory requirements; and reporting (including writing descriptions, copying, filing).

The FSA proposes to reduce this: "If we were able to reduce this burden - asking for information only when necessary - we could increase the capacity of the businesses that provide this information, and the enforcement officers who check it, to focus on compliance and improved consumer protection."

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