The ongoing delay to the implementation of food import-controls by the UK in the wake of Brexit is being partially caused by the pressure on some of the country’s regulatory bodies.
This pressure is caused in turn by these bodies being forced to take on extra responsibilities that were formally the responsibility of EU agencies while the UK was a member state.
This is according to a new report published this week by the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO).
It examined the post-Brexit work of three regulatory bodies in the UK: the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); the Food Safety Agency (FSA); and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The report – titled ‘Regulating after EU Exit’ – notes that the UK government has repeatedly postponed introducing full import controls on food imports from the EU, which until recently were due to be implemented in 2022 and are now planned to come into force from the end of 2023.
Various other delays or extensions were put in place by the three different regulatory authorities named in the report.
These bodies were required to take on “significant new responsibilities” as a result of Brexit.
The FSA, for example, now has expanded responsibility for assessing food and animal feed safety risks and making recommendations to government ministers, including for the authorisation of regulated products.
All three regulators received additional funding to cater for these new responsibilities. Despite this, all three of them are facing a number of challenges.
One of these is the recruitment of staff with specialised skills required for the new work they have taken on.
To use the FSA as an example again, it is struggling to recruit staff with expertise in toxicology, despite increasing its full-time staff by 115% since July 2018. It also has a lack of veterinarians.
Another key issue for these regulators is the loss of data-sharing arragements with the EU.
The FSA has lost full access to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), which is used by EU member states to exchange information on food safety risks.
The lack of progress on regulatory cooperation with the EU is also cited as an issue.
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and EU allows for voluntary regulatory cooperation. However, discussions on this between the two have not yet begun, and the EU-UK committee on regulatory cooperation has only met once.
The report concludes that all three regulators are building capacity to deal with their additional workloads but are facing operational challenges, including recruitment, data gaps and planning for their future long-term workloads.