The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling on the Government and the EU to ensure access to vital Europe wide food safety and animal health systems remains available in England after Brexit. It says a failure to protect access to key intelligence will weaken councils’ ability to protect public health and increase the risk of a new food scandal.
Previous food scandals, such as horsemeat, damaged public confidence in food and hit red meat sales in the UK. Regular alerts are sent for things such as pesticides residue, Mercury, Salmonella and E-Coli.
Whilst still a member of the European Union, the UK is part of a European-wide framework of rules and systems based upon scientific evidence which ensures the traceability of high risk products – notably food, feed and animal products – and provides rapid access to intelligence about contamination of products, helping to build a picture about suspect suppliers. This ensures that local regulatory officers at councils have access to vital information that enables them to target their enforcement activity, protect public health and support the economy.
Exiting the EU without agreement on this matter would leave regulators in limbo in March 2019, and even under the terms of the draft EU-UK withdrawal agreement, access to such databases would be switched off post-2020.
Councils, which help to protect public health through their trading standards, environmental health and port health work, are warning of the increased risk to public health if regulators are not able to access these systems and are calling on the Government and the European Union to ensure that, regardless of what form the final Brexit agreement takes, the UK’s access to these key mechanisms is maintained.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Brexit Taskforce, said:
“The UK has painful, recent experience of the damage that is caused when food and feed are compromised.
“If we lose access to these databases, we will lose access to vital intelligence about the origin of food, feed and animal products, and won’t be aware when rapid alerts are issued to the rest of the continent.
“This will significantly weaken our ability to effectively protect the food system, increasing the risk of a new scandal and undermining public confidence in the food industry.
“After years of funding reductions for trading standards and environmental health, we simply do not have the capacity to increase checks to offset this risk, either at ports or inland, unless this is fully funded. Without additional capacity, there is simply no alternative to continuing to receive and share this type of information.
“Continued access to these EU wide databases is of vital importance and the Government and the European Union must ensure that it is maintained.”