UK will have to look outside the EU over food law
industry along with regulators are being urged to start exploring World Health
Organisation rules covering the international food trade as the UK moves closer
to triggering an exit from the European Union.
came from a group of food experts who met at City University to discuss the
future of UK food policy in a post Brexit world.
nature of the UK’s departure is unclear speakers acknowledged there was around
a 70 per cent chance of the UK ending up outside the European Economic Area
(EEA) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and so outside the
jurisdiction of European food law. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as members
of EFTA have kept access to the internal market.
outside the EEA and EFTA will mean that Codex Alimentarius, the international
food code set by the WHO and the United Nations, will become the international
food standard by which UK food producers, processors and national food control
agencies would have to operate.
during a question and answer session former government food policy advisor Prof
Tim Lang said that there is every likelihood that the UK would be unable to
pull off a deal with the EU, ‘in which case Codex will no longer be peripheral
but will become fundamental, which means we will all be dusting down our Codex
that the change will mean a dramatic learning curve for food lawyers, industry
and civil servants as they come to grips with what is recognised as a highly
complex set of rules that have evolved since the early 1960s.
went on to raise concerns about whether there was the knowledge and experience
in the UK to make the transition. ‘The problem is that as a member of the European
Union we have dealt with Codex as part of the EU for the last 20 or 30 years,
which raises the question of whether we have the capacity.'
He added: 'The British state is incredibly weak when it comes to food law and that troubles me greatly.'
speaking at the conference was Brian Kelly, a legal partner in the London Life
Sciences Group, with an expertise in EU food and drug regulatory law. He told
the audience that while there would be great upheaval there may also be
opportunities for the UK in a post Brexit world, particularly in the field of
novel foods and innovative health foods.
both areas of food development that have hit a bureaucratic brick wall under
European regulatory controls. Mr Kelly told his audience that in the 20 years
or so that novel food regulations had been in place there had only been around
90 novel food approvals across the entire EU. One serious constraint is that under
EU rules the cost of bringing novel foods had been so prohibitive as to exclude
small to medium enterprises where much innovation stems from.
the health claim regulations that are supposed to incentivise research and
development have made approval highly bureaucratic to the point where over 10
years there have only been ‘five or six innovative health claims approved off
the back of genuine innovative proprietary data, which is quite shocking,’ said
also heard that the next milestone in the UK’s departure from the EU following the
triggering of Article 50 will be the enactment of the Great Repeal Bill, the
statutory instrument that will give Parliament the power to absorb parts of EU
legislation into UK law and scrap other parts.
statutory transition is already raising questions about what opportunities there
will be for food campaigners and lobby groups to influence changes in UK
heard that at present the instinct amongst civil servants at Defra, FSA and DH
is to take a ‘copy and paste’ approach and so just dump all existing
legislation over and then later sift through what is needed and what is not.
‘We have a
different system of legal principle in the UK where if something is not
prohibited then you can do it,’ explained Mr Kelly. ‘It is a different concept
on the continent where you almost need to be told you can do something for it
to be legal, that could be an opportunity to cut through a lot of unnecessary
also heard that the word coming out of Whitehall is that as lawyers look at the
wording of the Great Repeal Bill, the legislation has grown from a handful of pages
into an increasingly substantial document.
that appears to be gaining traction in Whitehall is that with 40 per cent of EU
legislation impacting on food law there may have to be a new food act to
tighten up the legal transition out of the EU. 'We should not get too fixated on the repeal bill, it is what is behind it, what comes after it and what will allow it to take life that is important and it is something that we are not giving enough attention,' said Prof Lang.
Defra is also working on the possibility of having to produce a new environment act. Defra
Secretary Andrea Leadsom, appearing before the Environment Audit Committee in
October, admitted that at least a third of EU environmental law will not easily
transpose into British law. It is estimated a similar proportion of EU food
laws will prove problematic.