There’ll be ‘honesty’ in labelling but uncertainty still surrounds the FSA, VAT and employment law, says Parmjit Singh

What does the new government have in store for the food sector?  Looking at the coalition's programme for government, as outlined in the Queen's Speech, there is still uncertainty.

Prior to the election, both the Conservatives and Labour had differing views as to the role of the FSA, with the Tories planning to strip it of diet and nutrition strategy and revert it to a pure food safety authority reporting to Defra. There is no mention of this in the new programme of government, so the remit of the FSA is still unclear.

The Food 2030 report, issued by Labour this year, outlined its vision of what it wanted the food system to look like in 2030. It has been well received, so the question now remains as to whether the strategies outlined will be reconsidered under the new government. The UK needs a coherent food policy so it would be hoped this is examined quickly.

We are all aware of the debt the government needs to tackle. An easy option is to put VAT on food but, so far, this doesn't seem to be on the agenda. This move would be unpopular as it would be considered a tax on the poorer members of society.

That said, there are areas where we have greater clarity, namely labelling. The coalition plans to introduce 'honesty' in labelling so consumers can be confident about where their food comes from and its environmental impact. It will be interesting to see how these measures fit into EU food information regulations.

Another area the food sector will need to prepare for is changes to employment legislation. Perhaps the greatest surprise is the intention to "review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive". This commitment could result in extensive employment law reform.

Added to this are pledges regarding flexible working and the phasing out of the default retirement age all will have an impact in terms of business costs and the administrative burden.

In short, change is on the horizon, but clarity on the specific issues for the food sector is still needed.

Parmjit Singh is head of the food sector group at Eversheds LLP.