A falling number of food inspections due to resourcing pressures, and delay in post-Brexit UK imports controls for high-risk food and feed from the EU, are among concerns highlighted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in a new report.
Published this week, Our Food: An annual review of food standards across the UK, is an inaugural report launched by FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS).
The first in a series of reports due to be published annually, it is part of an ongoing commitment to transparency, allowing parliamentarians, trading partners and consumers at home and abroad to remain aware of changes and challenges to the UK food system.
The inaugural annual report comes after the food system has faced two years of major upheaval following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Covid-19 pandemic and, more recently, the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine.
Despite these significant pressures, the report concludes, with a degree of caution, that food standards in the UK have largely been maintained. However, while there has been no evidence of a drop in standards, the report warns of challenges ahead.
Two of the main concerns identified are the fall in the number of inspections of food businesses, as a consequence of the resourcing pressures faced by local authorities.
Secondly, the delay in establishing full UK imports controls for high-risk food and feed from the EU, has reduced the ability to prevent the entry of unsafe food into the UK market.
“This first joint report reflects on a period during which there has been significant concern about the impact of world events on food standards and safety,” said Professor Susan Jebb, FSA chair.
“It is encouraging for UK consumers and our international trading partners that this report provides reassurance that the high food standards we enjoy in the UK have been upheld during a really tough period for the food system.
“However, the effects of recent momentous events are still being felt and will continue to have an impact on our food systems for many years to come.
“We are under no illusions that there are major challenges ahead. Establishing full UK import controls on food by the end of next year from the EU is a priority. The longer the UK operates without assurance that products from the EU meet our high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we can be that we can effectively identify potential safety incidents.
“As the report also points out, local authority inspections declined during the reporting period. Even though there are signs of improvement, particularly on hygiene inspections, local authorities continue to face resourcing constraints which could affect progress.
“We, along with our partners in government, must all make sure that the current challenges in the food system are resolved in a way that puts us on course for a safe, healthier and more sustainable future food system.”
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots said: “I welcome the publication of the first joint Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland report Our Food 2021.
“It is a very timely and important review which once again highlights the high standards of UK food while also recognising the challenges ahead, especially in relation to current cost of living crisis.
“I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Food Standards Agency and industry partners to ensure the delivery of safe, heathy, nutritious and environmentally sustainable food.”
While welcoming the report’s publication, The Food Foundation has raised concerns over inflationary pressure in food.
“This report again highlights the worrying trends we have already recognised – people are worried about food price inflation and the increasing difficulty of affording a healthy diet,” said Anna Taylor executive director, The Food Foundation.
“It says poor diet causes 13% of all deaths and four times more people are living with obesity compared with 1980.
“The report also shows many teenagers are having about two and a half times more sugar than the recommended maximum intake and gives similarly bleak figures for over consumption of saturated fat and salt.
“There is an urgent need to find new ways to help everyone to access healthy food. The forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper must deliver this.”