Food manufacturers may soon be dealt a bad hand as it’s been reported that the UK will press ahead with inspection charges that are likely hit over the next three to five years.
It has been widely publicised that the public finance purse strings have been tightened, and with this in mind the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are currently holding discussions with the food industry about transferring the cost of inspections onto the shoulders of businesses as part of their ‘Regulating our Future’ program. The FSA have announced that the program aims to redesign the FSA’s regulatory role in relation to food safety and move away from the ‘one size fits all’ system currently in place.
In addition to financial constraints, it is thought that the need for change has been triggered by more complex supply chains – through production and manufacture, storage, processing and handling from supplier to consumer.
There are currently two options that are being considered which could have significant repercussions for food businesses. The first options involves a registration scheme which would require all food businesses to make a payment to start operating and, secondly, payments for inspections when trading.
It has been suggested that when charging is introduced, it will be based on risk and linked to legislative non-compliance, for example, a ‘fee for fault’ system. Therefore, the food businesses being penalised will be those that are failing to meet food hygiene standards. The pay-off will be that number of local authority inspections will decrease.
Despite this, food manufacturers have been keen to demonstrate their resistance arguing that inspections benefit the public, not business, and the costs of inspections should be met from central funds and taxation. Members of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) are concerned that the charges could have a detrimental impact on the way food businesses and enforcement officers work together. This is likely to cause the high food hygiene standards in the UK to rapidly slip.
There are also fears that the additional costs could prove particularly burdensome for smaller food businesses and pose a major barrier for start-ups. The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCA) has warned its members that they could soon be facing fees as high as £500 each time their premises are checked. Although some micro-businesses may be exempt from the charges, many feel small businesses, which provide vital employment, would be disproportionately hit and even forced to close. Smaller businesses and start-ups generally require more guidance and frequent inspections for non-compliance whereas larger companies that have earned recognition will encounter fewer inspections and bear little costs.
The scope of mandatory charges is understood to have been watered down by the FSA to more of a compromise since talks were initiated; however we’re not betting on anything yet!
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