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homeWednesday 12th December 2018

FSA drops key RoF proposal

Will Hatchett14/12/2017 - 12:08

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FSA head Jason Feeney speaking at CIEH
FSA head Jason Feeney speaking at CIEH

The Food Standards Agency is no longer to prioritise the introduction of certified regulatory auditors (CRAs) under its Regulating our Future programme.

Under RoF as previously envisaged, CRAs from the private sector would have assessed the safety and compliance of food businesses, carrying out some of the roles currently performed by EHOs. Businesses demonstrating a high level of compliance would have been exempt from local authority inspection. But the CRA concept met with strong opposition, particularly from local authorities, during the FSA’s ‘open policy making’ consultation.

Heather Hancock, FSA chair, told last week’s FSA board meeting that, from now on, CRA, ‘will not be a priority, in terms of the progress of the programme’.

Earlier, board member, David Brooks, had told the board meeting that CRA had not attracted much support and that putting a lot of effort into it would be like ‘pushing water uphill’.

Particular opposition to CRA, the meeting learned, had come from Wales and Northern Ireland, under whose laws food hygiene ratings can only be assessed and awarded by local government officers.

Michael Jackson, FSA head of regulatory standards and assurance, told the meeting that certified regulatory auditors are used in food control in New South Wales and New Zealand. He said that CRAs worked best when supplementing ‘sustainably funded’ official controls, particularly for challenging businesses. They should not be regarded as a replacement for official controls.

He said that, under RoF, the first assessment of a food business would always be by a local authority or the FSA as the competent authority. Private assurance would only be used to inform official controls of businesses with high hygiene ratings.

FSA research had shown wide variation in the quality of third-party audits and the agency would be looking to develop a tiered competency framework in order to ‘drive up standards’.

In a discussion of the current capacity of official controls, he told the board that the environmental health degrees and professional registration managed by CIEH are currently producing about a hundred qualified food safety officers a year but that there is severe shortage of practical placements.

The FSA board decided to continue, as a priority, the RoF work streams on the enhanced registration of food businesses and risk segmentation. Under current plans, full cost recovery from business will only begin after Brexit.

Pressed for detail on RoF at the CIEH’s Year Ahead conference, Jason Feeney, FSA chief executive told delegates that although developing a centrally-held register of all food businesses was ‘difficult’ the FSA was keen to press ahead. He said: ‘We’ll be looking to involve local authorities in designing and testing the system and involving them in the pilots next year, to make sure that it works.’

Mr Feeney said that FSA had been working closely with the Global Food Safety Initiative to ensure that ‘repatriated’ food safety controls after Brexit were compatible with Codex Alimentarius, the international food safety standard, as well as facilitating trade with the EU, which would need to have confidence in UK food safety. He said that early portrayals of RoF as replacing official controls by private assurance had been a misrepresentation – official controls would continue.

A poll of CIEH members participating in a webinar on RoF lead by CIEH head of policy, Tony Lewis, found that 69 per cent of participants were in favour of enhanced registration and only 3 per cent against, with 28 per cent unsure. Eighty-five per cent said that third party auditors should not assess FHRS scores. In other findings, 97 per cent of participants said that the display of FHRS scores should be mandatory in England. Fifty-nine per cent thought that access to assured third party data on safety compliance would be valuable to local authorities and the FSA but 39 per cent were undecided.

 

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