The EU is proposing changes to Regulation 882/2004, which is the EU legislation that governs food and agriculture industries, to strengthen enforcement of health and safety standards for the food industry through Europe. The proposed changes are still being negotiated and a final text is not expected until 2015. The proposed changes will affect how food standards are monitored in the UK and impact most businesses within the food industry.
Changes to food industry regulation
The aim of the proposed changes is to provide food standard regulators in EU Member States with more instruments to ensure compliance with EU Law. The European Commission highlighted that this is particularly important given the recent horsemeat scandal. There will be a major increase in the number of controls subject to mandatory charging. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) points out that the standards will now be monitored with an increasing number of inspections subject to mandatory charging. The proposed changes also introduce anti-fraud checks to ensure financial penalties are met and that these penalties are in fact dissuasive.
Currently the Member States are also allowed to decide how much of the costs of controls they recover from industry, with some minimum charges set. However, under the proposed changes the EU would require Member States to recover the full cost from the industry.
The European Commission is proposing a new risk based approach so the focus of monitoring food standards will be on more relevant issues. Furthermore, the Commission plans to harmonize the procedures and management of import controls. New rules regarding information that local authorities make available to the general public and businesses have been proposed.
Impact on businesses
Under the proposed changes companies that are already charged for controls could see them increase or decrease, depending on how much Member States need to recover from the industry. Businesses that are not currently charged will be. Food businesses can also expect increased anti-fraud checks to ensure compliance. The fees system that finances the controls will be extended to areas within the chain that are not currently charged. Consequently, the Commission aims to stop operators from avoiding full responsibility for implementing controls.
A key impact is for microenterprises which will now be exempt from fees but not controls. All businesses that have fewer than 10 employees and a balance sheet turnover of less than 2 million euros are microenterprises for the purpose of the proposed changes. In addition, SME’s are being exempted from a lot of costs and other “burdensome elements” so that they can operate more freely.
The Commission has promised a “reduced administrative burden”. This means less red tape for farmers, breeders and food operators. This plans to make the system much fairer and cost effective for businesses so that consumers across Europe may benefit. The proposed changes also plan to give companies much more security by reducing the chance of animal diseases and plant pests.
The proposed changes to the EU Regulation aim to make the process smarter, risk based and harmonized throughout Europe in order to avoid scandals and provide businesses clearer rules and protect consumers. Food industry businesses will feel the impact on all levels but SME’s and microenterprises will experience the least changes.
For specialist advice in relation to the proposed legislative changes in the UK food industry contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.