The trade body representing UK food manufacturers has backed the need for a rethink on the fee inspection regime for food businesses - but cautioned it must lead to a system that is consistent and efficient.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it understood the rationale behind proposals for a fee inspection shake-up tabled this week by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It recognised that local authority regulators responsible for carrying out checks are likely to be hard hit by funding cuts as part of UK Government efforts to slash public spending.
The industry group also said that food businesses in high-risk sectors and those with the poorest records should be targeted under any new structure.
“Food safety and consumer trust in official controls are crucial for a successful and sustainable food industry,” Barbara Gallani, FDF director of food safety & science, told FoodProductionDaily.com.
She added: “We recognise that the extensive budget review will have, or has already had, an impact on resources both for Local Government Regulation (formerly LACORS) and local authorities. We therefore agree with the need for an informed review of the current food safety delivery regime and welcome the opportunity to respond to the FSA consultation in due course.”
In its proposals, the FSA said this week that current charging arrangements are inconsistently applied across sectors and there is no strong link between fees paid and compliance with food safety legislation.
The reforms should see a clearer and simpler system that would cut bureaucracy and make fees easier to calculate and apply. Tariffs should be based on actual costs and aim at full cost recovery, which the body said was a key principle on the reforms.
Clarifying which products and sectors should be covered by the system would remove the present charging inconsistencies, added the report, due to go before the FSA board next week. It also called for strengthening the link between fees and compliance to provide an incentive for FBOs to observe regulations.
The agency also appeared to anticipate opposition to its reforms from food industry players - particularly if they resulted in increased fees or their application to new sectors.
The FDF laid out what it hoped the amended fee structure would deliver and urged that the FSA recognise the complexity of the food sector.
“Any revised system should clearly deliver consistency as well as efficiency, resilience and sustainability; should take into account the complexity and across-boundary nature of food businesses; and should focus on businesses with poor records and at highest risk,” added Gallani.