Food safety is anything but as simple as ABC, as the FSA has found out to its cost.

The agency, as The Grocer revealed today, has been forced to scrap key elements of its controversial Achieving Business Compliance proposals – and it looks far from certain that much of what it has proposed will ever see the light of day.

The merits of this scheme, just like the Regulating Our Future Programme that preceded it, have always been a hard sell.  

Can plans to reduce the frequency of inspections for larger companies, to tap in to industry-run assurance schemes and allow councils with critically low levels of staffing concentrate on “higher risk” smaller firms, be seen as anything more than just expediency in the face of the financial crisis? 

FSA is ditching key food safety elements

The FSA claims the ABC scheme will provide much-needed modernisation for a food and drink industry that has changed beyond recognition since its food safety and hygiene rules were last given a major makeover.

But this week it revealed it was ditching key elements of its shake-up, following a consultation with local authorities who warned reducing hygiene inspections could lead to a reduction in standards at bigger companies and see confidence in the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme dented. 

Meanwhile, talks with dozens of industry assurance schemes held as a precursor for using them to take the strain of government-funded schemes have also received a mixed response. The industry doesn’t much fancy being forced to mark its own homework, and that of its various supply chains, because the regulators don’t have the resources.

Next week, the FSA board will decide where it goes next with the plans. A report to the meeting warns that it lacks the regulatory power to make many of the changes proposed, and admits they would require the government to come in and rip up food safety rules.

Does the UK have a modern food safety system? 

All in all, it paints a very unflattering picture of the FSA, which is made to look desperate, toothless and fighting against the tide as it attempts what it bills as the biggest changes to food safety and hygiene in 30 years.

Is this what was meant when politicians talked of the freedom for the UK to carve out its own path on food laws after Brexit?

Yes, it’s important for the UK to have a modern food safety system, and it makes sense to use the latest technology and resources in the industry to help that process. 

But when the first hundreds of local councils begin switching to the new food safety rules from early in the new year,  it will be, at least in part, driven by money – or rather the lack of it.