Scottish flag

It is a sign of the incredible times we live in that Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has followed in the footsteps of the FSA south of the border in an approach to get the industry to take on swathes of food hygiene regulation.

Without the backdrop of Brexit, local authority cuts and financial desperation in government circles across the UK, such a move would have been inconceivable in Scotland, or probably anywhere else.

If any organisation likes to be seen to be tough on the food sector, it is the Scottish version of the FSA.

Yet, as revealed by The Grocer, the organisation has quietly launched a consultation over proposals for a new “light touch” regulatory system. This would make use of existing company food safety schemes and third-party inspections, freeing up cash-strapped government resources to concentrate on tackling rogue operators.

The move north of the border comes less than five months after The Grocer broke the news that the FSA had turned to Tesco to trial a new, technology-based model for food safety across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, after describing the current system of inspections as stuck in the past. 

If those go as planned, this could be just the start of a pivotal new role for the food and drink sector in regulation. It could even see retailers like Tesco running flagship FSA projects such as the Food Hygiene Ratings which, considering we are just four years on from Horsegate, shows either how much supermarkets have raised the bar or just how dire a financial situation our authorities are in.

In fact, both are true. And there are opportunities for the amazingly advanced auditing systems and food safety technology developed by food companies to help food inspections, freeing up resources to tackle the real bad guys.

There is also much to be said for removing some of the duplication of current auditing – the area is infamous for its red tape.

Yet as Professor Tim Lang – a man heavily involved in the original foundation of the independent FSA – points out, it’s not just the FSA and now the FSS that are risking a backlash with these moves.

Not only is there the issue of the FSS wanting companies to fund the system, there is also a real danger in being seen to become “judge and jury” on an issue so potentially explosive. After all, we all know from recent events that these days even judges are not beyond the wrath of the press and the powers-that-be.