Three months ago I accepted an invitation from food and farming minister Jim Paice to chair a Task Force on Farming Regulation. The challenge is to reduce the regulatory burden that farm and food businesses face.
Our remit is far wider than the name suggests and includes the regulations that face food processors at the point that farm produce enters the food chain.
I am calling for the people directly affected by the regulations to tell us about your concerns and ideas you have for making things better.
This is not a simple task. Many of the regulations and the associated inspection regimes that farmers and food processors face come from the European Union.
If the recommendations that the Task Force makes are to be useful and create a lasting legacy, we will need to provide Brussels with real solutions that offer better ways of doing things.
Reviews of regulations have been tried before but I believe this time the climate is right to deliver real and lasting change. Ministers have been clear they want to test traditional approaches to regulation and that government departments, agencies and businesses must start to think differently and use their resources in more targeted ways. The Task Force consultation is the first opportunity for the food and farming industries to get involved in the process, to share your views on ways to reduce the burden that has built around regulation, restore trust and maintain standards.
We need your views and, more importantly, your solutions. What are the main problems your business faces in dealing with officialdom? We are focusing on three areas:lidentifying unnecessary measures that might be revoked or, if EU-based, renegotiated;
lputting forward alternative approaches that could reduce the burden of existing regulations removing 'gold-plating';
ltargeting disproportionate or overly complex implementation and enforcement that could be made more simple, empathetic, risk-based and outcome-driven.
Tell us what the issues are, whether big or small, the responsibility of Defra, the FSA or other government departments. For change to be real and lasting, we need clear, workable and evidence-based proposals.
This is not, as some have feared, a carte blanche invitation to lower standards. It is instead the opportunity to use market-based regulations that are simple and focused on delivering food to high standards in the best and simplest way. Are there areas where official risk assessment is over-restrictive? Are there inspections that are repeated by more than one official agency or by your own or other private sector audits? How would you reward compliant business and deal with those that are not?
Our review, due out in April 2011, will only be as good as the evidence we get from all of you in the food business. The ball is very much in your half of the court.
Please let us have your views by 31 October. You can write to the Task Force on Farm Regulation at Defra, Area 5D Millbank, Nobel House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR, email to FarmRegulationTaskForce@defra.gsi.gov.uk or read more and comment at engage.defra.gov.uk/farm-regulation/.
Richard Macdonald is a former director general of the NFU .