After more than three years of 'will we, won't we?' uncertainty, 31 January 2020 marked the day that the United Kingdom officially left the European Union; however, this is just the beginning of the real process of change. The rest of 2020 will see the United Kingdom transition out of the European Union and there are currently still more questions than answers about what the legal, regulatory and trading landscape will look like for UK food and drink businesses on 1 January 2021.
In January 2019 draft regulations were laid before Parliament to ensure that regimes governing biocidal products, hazardous chemicals and chemical classification can continue to operate after Brexit. The regulations swiftly followed similar legislation that would create a UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regime and a UK chemicals agency. Despite industry calls for close regulatory alignment with the European Union, a UK REACH now looks highly probable.
The government recently announced that food businesses will soon be required to provide full ingredient labelling on foods which are pre-packed for direct sale. Such products will also need to clearly state whether their ingredients include any of the 14 declarable allergens. This will benefit all consumers with allergies, who will be able to clearly see from the label whether a pre-packaged product contains any of the declarable allergens, regardless of where the product was prepared and packaged.
Draft regulations have been laid before Parliament to ensure that regimes governing biocidal products, hazardous chemicals and chemical classification can continue to operate after Brexit. The regulations swiftly follow similar legislation that would create a UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regime and a UK chemicals agency. They are largely consistent with previous implementing legislation published ahead of Brexit and attempt to preserve the status quo.
A statutory instrument was recently published that would create a UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and a UK chemicals agency after Brexit. For companies that manufacture products or import substances into the European Union, REACH compliance will no doubt be part of their 2019 strategy – and if it is not, it should be.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was created in January 2018 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is tasked with improving protections for consumers and the environment and driving increased productivity, growth and business confidence. A recent case put before the OPSS demonstrates the importance of consumer product manufacturers' control not just over their manufacturing processes, but also throughout the supply chain.
In view of the challenges faced by the food and drink sector in 2018, businesses across the supply chain may want to make some New Year's resolutions to ensure that they are fighting fit and ready for the year ahead. This article posits a number of key issues for food and drink businesses to consider in this regard, including supply contracts, allergen labelling and food crime.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently published draft regulations to amend legislation that enforce laws protecting consumers' rights in the United Kingdom. The draft regulations will be effective after exit day and demonstrate the government's approach to ensure that current legislation due to EU membership continues to be operative after Brexit and that UK consumers will be no worse off, while removing the direct influence and jurisdiction of EU member state enforcement bodies.
It is within the UK government's power to make changes to require improved communication of allergen information on food labels in circumstances where there is an increased risk that confusion could arise. Following the tragic death of a young woman who died after consuming a baguette containing sesame, calls have been made for changes to allergen labelling laws. But are changes really needed and, if so, what could and should be done?
The High Court recently held that a retail store owner was jointly liable with a product manufacturer for an accident that had occurred at his store. The existence of joint and several liability has long been criticised for creating disproportionate liability because it arguably places insured companies at greater risk. Suggested reforms have included the introduction of proportionate liability and a statutory capping regime on insurance claims.
The chemical and manufacturing industries are still waiting for clear post-Brexit plans for UK chemicals regulation, with exit from the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation a particular concern. The potential for significant business disruption if the United Kingdom and the European Union fail to reach a pragmatic solution on the future of the United Kingdom's participation in REACH poses a number of issues.
The Food Standards Agency recently announced that it has stopped products leaving sites run by Russell Hume, a major meat and poultry processing business, following "instances of serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations". It has also required Russell Hume to withdraw existing products from the market. Incidents such as these raise a number of questions for food businesses and consumers about the safety and provenance of the food that they are buying.