Food Standards Agency: firms will pay for audits

Charging food businesses for audits will be part of an overhaul of the way food safety and hygiene regulations are implemented, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed.

However, the agency stressed the charges would be proportionate to the risks businesses posed, so that offending firms that demand greater scrutiny would bear much greater costs.

A paper published on the FSA website today covering the changes, which are planned to take effect in 2020, has stated: “Alongside working to make our model financially efficient, we will introduce a new funding model to ensure the future sustainability of the system. This will involve a transparent charging regime. The businesses that require the most intervention from government will bear the highest costs.

“The new approach we will take to assurance will allow businesses choice about how they demonstrate compliance (where the law allows this), which will determine the costs involved (and who is paid).”

Announcing the move, one of many changes to the approach to food regulations following its Regulating Our Future consultation, FSA chair Heather Hancock said the current system urgently needed reform. “The case for changing the food regulation system is strong. We need to reform the way we regulate to keep up the pace of change in the global food economy: in what we eat, where we consume it, how it reaches us. We need a modern, flexible and responsive regulatory system.

“It is important that we act now, rather than wait for the system to falter, risking damaging consequences for public health and for trust in food. These reform plans are given extra momentum as the UK leaves the EU, a step that will adjust patterns of food production, trade and consumption.”

Hancock said the heart of the reformed system would be an enhanced system of registration for all food businesses. “We want the outcomes from these changes to be a more robust, sustainable regulatory regime – one that sees standards improve in risky businesses, reduces the administrative burden for businesses that demonstrate they are compliant with food law, and sees effective enforcement action against food businesses that fail to fulfil their obligations.

“The new regulatory approach means big changes for the FSA, including strengthening our oversight of all the bodies involved in inspecting and assuring food businesses. We want to improve relationships with industry, bring a more commercially astute understanding onto our regulatory decisions and, above all, ensure that the stringent and robust standards we set help food businesses fulfil their responsibility to produce food that is safe and what it says it is.”

The FSA outlined the major changes to the existing system as follows:

• An enhanced system of registration for businesses, which will mean securing better information on all businesses so that we can better identify and manage risk across the food chain. Knowing more about a food business will enable us to make better judgments about regulating it. We want to create a hostile environment for those businesses that don’t proactively register.

• Segmenting businesses in a better way, using a range of risk indicators based on wider information about the business, including the information gathered at the point of registration and from other sources.

• We want to be confident that businesses are doing the right thing and we will introduce more options for how they prove it. Depending on how robust the information that businesses share is, including their past performance, we will set the frequency and type of inspection activity they face. This means businesses with a good history of compliance will face a lower burden from regulation, and free up local authority resources to target the businesses that present the greatest risk to public health.

• We remain committed to our very successful and trusted Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. We will continue to ensure the scheme is sustainable and display becomes mandatory in England as it is in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Plans include requiring all food businesses to hold a Permit to Trade and an expanded formal role for private assurance schemes. Other changes will be making firms’ Primary Authority responsible for ensuring a business is meeting its responsibilities and the introduction of private sector Certified Regulatory Auditors to carry out audits.

The FSA paper stated it also aimed to broaden and deepen the role of the National Food Crime Unit and introduce additional sanctions for businesses not compliant with audit requirements, such as fixed penalty notices.

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