There are fears a controversial EU plan to exempt small food businesses from HACCP food safety requirements could be revived.

The Portuguese presidency dropped the proposal last year because an agreement on the issue could not be reached.

But Slovenian agriculture minister Iztok Jarc has told MEPs that the current Slovene presidency still wants to reach a consensus on the matter.

He was speaking in response to a proposed amendment to the rules from MEP Horst Schnellhardt, which would result in individual member states deciding at a local level whether small food businesses should be exempt from HACCP.

Jarc said: "We will have to see what steps we can take, what progress we can make. We will carry on with our work. We can't predict the outcome."

Now the FSA, Which? and several UK trade bodies - including the FDF, the BRC and the PTF - have voiced concern at the prospect the change could yet be brought in. "We believe that if implemented the amendment would weaken existing rules on food safety, and increase the difficulties faced by competent authorities and enforcement officers investigating incidents and enforcing general food law," they said in joint letter to MEPs on the European Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee - of which Schnellhardt is rapporteur.

"HACCP emphasises the importance of food business operators understanding their own business and ensuring staff are adequately trained."

Brussels proposed the measure last year to apply to companies employing fewer than 10 people as part of moves to cut the burden of regulation on businesses.

But the amendment to the EU's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points regulation was greeted with dismay by many states - including here in the UK where the FSA, trade bodies and consumer groups joined forces in a rare show of unity to oppose the proposal. They warned that companies of this size were responsible for 60% of all cases of food poisoning between 2000 and 2005.

MEPs are to consider the amendment this month.