U.K. Takes Simpler Approach to Food Safety

Dec 22, 2006

By Bernice Hurst

The British Food Standards Agency (FSA) is looking to “cut red tape and increase consumer protection” at the same time with a new program designed to make it easier for business to understand and comply with food safety regulations.

The simplification plan, as it is known, includes a number of initiatives such as the deregulation of butchers’ licensing that is projected to save the industry £1.3m a year in fees.

Another key element of the plan includes improvements to the GRAIL (Guidance and Regulatory Advice on Import Legislation) database system to make it more accessible to health officers at U.K. ports. Up till now, each port had to install its own individual reference system to stay current with changes in law. Many had to rely on hard copies as a point of reference. With the new plan, the GRAIL database will be available to all.

Port Health Officer, Richard Jacobs, who uses the GRAIL system at Felixstowe Port, said in a FSA press release: “With the regular changes that occur in imported food legislation we can now look at GRAIL, confident that the latest version of the legislation is available. All ports with GRAIL have access to the same information which is a significant step forward in ensuring consistency.”

Dame Deirdre Hutton, FSA Chair, said, “The FSA is firmly committed to better regulation. Simplifying regulation makes compliance easier and leads to increased public protection.”

In addition to the simplification plan, the FSA has already committed to reducing the administrative burden of food regulations by 25 percent – £11.9m – by April 2010.

Discussion Questions: How easy or difficult is it for American businesses to understand and comply with food regulations? Have the recent outbreaks of
food poisoning in the U.S. created opportunities to improve food safety? Is there concern that “cutting red tape” may be code for “cutting corners” that put consumers at risk?

Simplification and consistency are certainly needed. The possible catch would be if deregulation were to reduce transparency. If there is one thing that
British consumers are demanding more and more, it is reason to trust the food chain.

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3 Comments on "U.K. Takes Simpler Approach to Food Safety"

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M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 5 months ago
As I’ve commented in these spaces previously, we should use the accounting industry’s “law of large numbers” when addressing food safety. Go after the biggest thing first, run it to the ground, fix it, and turn your sights on the next-biggest thing. Use every available resource in each instance, but keep the spotlight on the largest number (biggest offender) until you’re satisfied it’s clean. We don’t need “Dames” or new legislation to do this. There are plenty of laws on the books to protect our food supply. Rather, we need dedicated professionals (food safety “hit men”) who approach problems like cruise missiles. We need a version of Eliot Ness and the Untouchables. Men In Black. Top Guns. Navy SEALS. We need Food Safety Ninjas (FSN, you read it here first). Will emerging software help? Of course! Perhaps even Madame Hurst’s holy GRAIL. All tools should be supplied to our FSNs. Why would they be denied the best stuff? Recently the INS raided various poultry-processing plants and nabbed or chased off hundreds of workers not approved… Read more »
Mark Lilien
15 years 5 months ago

Although millions of people prefer organic, kosher, and halal foods, these shoppers certainly aren’t in the majority. When a specific incident gets widespread publicity (spinach, Taco Bell, Mad Cow) sales go down, but they recover a few months later. Based on their apparent lobbyist support, most of the American food industry doesn’t want regulation or inspection for domestic supply participants. Bad incidents are still quite rare, directly making very few people sick, so there’s no great public pressure to change anything. There is a high degree of well-earned trust in restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, etc.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
15 years 4 months ago

Food safety for business takes a top management commitment to be effective. This includes setting tough standards for suppliers, dealing honestly with customer questions or complaints, and resolving food safety issues arising in store operations and merchandising. Having a top level food safety professional in charge of this area is also key in maintaining and implementing food safety programs.

Consumers have a high degree of confidence in the safety of the American food supply, but this confidence must be earned each day. Adequate food safety education for consumers and employees is often lacking. The Partnership for Food Safety Education is a credible source to use and combines the expertise of industry, government and consumer organizations.


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