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UK and US Focus Efforts on Food Safety


Both the United States and the United Kingdom have taken steps in recent weeks to address the issue of the safety of the food supply in both countries. In the US, Congress is on the verge of new food safety legislation while the UK has taken more definitive regulatory action.

Last week, Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) published their strategic direction for 2010-2015. The main objective of the strategic plan is to improve food safety and the balance of people's diets. The agency's core values will remain: putting the consumer first, openness, independence, and science and evidenced based policies. The five outcomes the FSA aims to deliver in the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan are:

  • Food produced or sold in the UK is safe to eat
    By reducing foodborne disease using a targeted approach and tackling campylobacter in chicken as a priority. Increasing horizon scanning and improving forensic knowledge of, and intelligence on, global food chains to identify and reduce the impact of potential new and re-emerging risks, particularly chemical contamination.
  • Imported food is safe to eat
    By working internationally to reduce risks from food and feed originating in non- EU countries. To ensure risk-based, targeted checks at ports and local authority monitoring of imports throughout the food chain.
  • Consumers understand about safe food and healthy eating and have the information they need to make informed choices
    To improve public awareness and use of messages about healthy eating and good food hygiene practice at home. To increase provision of information to consumers on the hygiene standards of food premises when they choose where to eat. To increase the availability of information on calories in meals in catering establishments. To promote the adoption of a single, simple and effective front-of-pack labeling approach. To develop and promote integrated Government advice for consumers on food issues.
  • Food products and catering meals are healthier
    To continue to achieve reductions in levels of saturated fat, salt and calories in food products. To encourage the development, promotion and availability of healthier options when shopping and eating out. To make sure the portion sizes appropriate for a healthy diet are available and promoted.
  • Regulation is effective, risk based and proportionate, is clear about the responsibilities of food business operators and others, and protects consumers and their interests from fraud and other risks
    To secure effective enforcement and implementation of policies within the UK to protect consumers from risks related to food and from fraudulent or misleading practices, targeting the areas where there is highest risk. To develop the FSA's knowledge of what works in driving up business compliance with regulations. To safeguard consumers by making it easier for businesses to comply with regulations and minimize burdens on businesses. To secure more proportionate, risk-based and effective regulation by strengthening the FSA's engagement in the EU and in international forums. To work internationally to design a model for a new regulatory and enforcement regime for ensuring meat controls are effective.

The FSA will set performance measures to monitor progress against the five key outcomes by measuring trends in foodborne disease and monitoring dietary intakes of salt, saturated fat and calories and consumption of fruit and vegetables. The FSA will review the strategy each year and will make adjustments if needed to ensure that the public health is protected from both food and safety risks and dietary imbalances.

The Strategic plan for 2005-2010 had three key aims which were Food Safety, Eating for Health and Choice. The main difference in the new plan relates to food safety. Much has been done to tackle the salmonella problem since the 2005-2010 plan , and now the FSA's priority will be to combat campylobacter in chickens. While the earlier plan acknowledged that the FSA was working with stakeholders to prevent illegal food imports and working with professional bodies to develop a shared agenda in respect to regulation, the 2010-2015 Strategic plan addresses the issue more directly, concentrating on monitoring food imported from non-EU countries and effective regulation. Furthermore an Evidence Strategy runs alongside the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, which sets out the FSA's priorities for the evidence that is needed and the activities that will be undertaken to ensure that evidence is obtained and used effectively. Overall the strategic plan for 2010-2015 puts into focus the FSA goals of making food in the UK healthier and safer.

In the US, Congress is on the verge of enacting food safety legislation that would alter significantly the regulatory obligations of food facilities. The push for this legislation has been influenced by high profile food recalls over the last few years, with consequent injuries and deaths, which have reduced consumer confidence in food safety.

In July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2749, which would, among other things, require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") to create a better system for tracking and tracing food, and impose new requirements for importers. Last month, the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (the "HELP" Committee) reported favorably on S. 510, which must now be voted on by the full Senate. The Senate version of the legislation contains similar provisions regarding tracking and tracing, as well as increased obligations for importers.

The food traceability requirements are a theme also seen in the FSA's strategy. Both the FSA's Strategy and the pending US legislation focus on supply chain quality, i.e., ensuring that throughout the global food supply chain, foods remain safe to eat.

A key difference between the FSA Strategy and the proposed US legislation relates to consumer education. The FSA sees consumer education as an important element of the strategy whilst the proposed US legislation's focus is on increasing consumer confidence through greater oversight and regulation.

Organizations that trade in food and food related products should note some of the common aims shared by the FSA and FDA. There are obvious differences in regulatory requirements and in enforcement, hence, careful consideration of these requirements is required when doing business in both countries.

With thanks to Catherine Perry and Deborah Yellin for their assistance in preparing this alert.

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