Food Law News - EU - 2007

FSA Consultation Letter, 9 May 2007

HYGIENE - European Commission Proposal to Amend Regulation (EC) 852/2004: FSA consultation

For a copy of the FSA consultation document, including the EU documents, see: Hygiene Amendment Consultation

The key proposal is to amend Regulation (EC) 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, so that certain food businesses with fewer than ten employees would be exempt from the requirement for food safety procedures based on HACCP principles. Responses are requested by: 1 August 2007

Consultation details

The proposal arises from the European Commission's Strategic Review of Better Regulation in the European Union, which includes a proposal to reduce the administrative burdens on business by 25% by 2012. Following the Commission's recent stakeholder consultation, ten ‘fast track action' proposals were identified with this aim in mind. The proposal also concerns aspects of transport policy, which are not the subject of this consultation.

The proposal would exclude food business operators with fewer than ten employees predominantly selling food to the final consumer, from the requirement to put in place food safety management procedures based on the HACCP principles. It is estimated that the number of UK food business establishments to which this Proposal would apply is 480,000 (of 600,000 altogether.) As many stakeholders will be aware, HACCP is recognised world-wide as a tool for helping food businesses control hazards to food safety.

The Explanatory Memorandum with the proposal (in document 7371/07) notes that during the Commission's consultation with European level stakeholder groups, concerns raised by stakeholders indicated a need for clarification of the application of the Article 5(1) requirements. As far as small businesses are concerned, the Commission has taken the view therefore that the difficulties imposed by the application of HACCP, combined with the assertion that the same level of hygienic protection can be provided through application of the other requirements, means that some small businesses will be suitable for exemption from the Article 5(1) requirements.

The UK Government has strongly encouraged the Commission's agenda to reduce administrative burdens on business. Indeed, when negotiating food hygiene legislation, the UK argued for risk-based food safety controls containing flexibilities so that food businesses can apply the measures proportionately to the nature, size and activities of the business; this would mean an appropriate level of record-keeping. The Agency believes that the current legislation provides both the necessary level of public health protection while not placing a disproportionate level of burden upon food businesses. As drafted, the proposal does not adequately address issues of risk, and it will be necessary to secure drafting changes to achieve this. Your views on how this might be achieved are sought.

The proposal has considerable implications for competition. Businesses of similar risk, but slightly different size, could be subject to different food safety management requirements. The ‘fewer than ten' threshold could also act as a barrier to commercial expansion. There is the further issue that HACCP-based procedures lend themselves to audit by enforcement authorities; without this greater reliance would need to be placed on food business inspection in order to form views about compliance. Such an approach might have resource implications for both food businesses and enforcers. Comments from stakeholders on all of these issues, where appropriate backed up with quantifiable information (e.g. time, costs), is extremely helpful to the Agency when completing the RIA and in formulating policy more generally.

The Commission documents

The key documents, issued on 14 March 2007 and with which this consultation is concerned, are the following:

Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA)

In the RIA, the Agency has set out its initial consideration of the proposal's general impacts and quantified its benefits and costs based on three identified policy options. The Agency encourages stakeholders to examine the RIA closely and welcomes stakeholders' views and comments, particularly where stakeholders are able to provide evidence as to the benefits and costs, even if these are estimates or anecdotal.

The Agency also encourages stakeholders to provide any evidence they can to help inform the RIA's Competition Assessment, the Small Firms' Impact Test and the Enforcement, Sanctions and Monitoring section.

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