Enforcement of regulation in small food manufacturing businesses
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ("BIS") has just published the first of a series of regulatory reviews which sets out to examine the impact of regulation, as delivered by local and national enforcement bodies, on businesses in particular areas of the economy.
The first review focused on small businesses in food and drink manufacturing. It considered two main areas, food hygiene and composition and labelling, both of which are enforced by local authorities.
The issues that were identified as problematic during their fact finding exercise will come as no surprise to those involved in food manufacture or indeed their legal advisers:
- Proportionality of HACCP implementation by small businesses. Issue with HACCP as a legal requirement.
- Expertise of and support to small manufacturing businesses from local authority enforcement officers.
- Ease of understanding of regulatory requirements.
- Consistency of enforcement when business is operated over more than one local authority boundary.
- Inspections: frequency and quality.
- Lack of appropriate appeals mechanism.
The report particularly found that it was hard for small businesses to find detailed advice on the application of regulatory requirements to their business. The legislation provides the development of industry specific guidance on HACCP yet only six such documents appear to have been produced and these were not available freely but had to be purchased.
Regulation 852/2004 makes it clear that the HACCP requirements should provide sufficient flexibility to be applicable in all situations, including in small businesses. The feeling from those spoken to as part of the review was that there was an element of gold plating going on with over zealous enforcement by individual EHO's taking place who were publishing guidance which indicated that a form of certified training was a legal requirement when in fact it is not.
The Food Standards Agency have already responded to this report. They have undertaken to work with industry across the UK with the aim of making information available more widely and to identify gaps in the material.
They have also looked at ways to better explain where exemptions to HACCP apply and they have commissioned a survey to determine whether small food manufacturers find the guidance successful or useful or whether they find the current legislation over burdensome.
The FSA have undertaken to work with local authorities to explain where to source further information and advice about HACCP.
The FSA has also accepted the difficulties faced by enforcement officers with the wide ranging nature of the businesses they work with and is keen to provide further training to fill knowledge gaps and to explore potential for local authorities to work closely together, to not only improve the competency of enforcement officers in food safety but also to enable them to provide better support to business.
All of the above should be seen as a positive step forward to improve the quality of advice, guidance and enforcement from the local authorities and we await with interest to see whether a discernable difference can be identified.