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WAIVING FOOD SAFETY LAWS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES 'UNACCEPTABLE'

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To exempt small food businesses from food safety requirements on grounds of their size would expose the public to u...
To exempt small food businesses from food safety requirements on grounds of their size would expose the public to unacceptable risk, warns the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). Commenting on the recommendation by the house of commons select committee on agriculture that 'sympathetic consideration' be given to introducing derogations from food safety requirements for small food businesses, the CIEH cautions against the temptation to perceive food safety as a 'optional extra'. The desire to assist small businesses in minimising their regulatory burden should not be pursued at the expense of public health and that to waive legislation designed to protect the public would make the enforcement of high standards more difficult.

David Statham, chairman of the CIEH food committee, said, 'We believe the present food safety legislation is the minimum required to protect the public. To remove any of these requirements even for those businesses with an exemplary record would be highly unwise. It is because food businesses must comply with requirements that ensures the majority of them have high standards. We appreciate the difficulties many small food businesses have in conforming to legislation, but it is that sector that suffers from some of the worst standards. We strongly urge the government and parliament to reject this recommendation. Food safety is not an optional extra'.

Mr Statham added that the present Code of Practice for inspections followed by Environment Health Officers (EHOs) already takes account of 'good performance', those food businesses with a good food safety record being allocated a lower risk rating and so are inspected less frequently.

Additionally, while welcoming much of the sentiment of the agriculture committee report, Mr Statham pointed out that it would be wrong to judge the performance of local authorities in food safety inspection without clear criteria and he rejected criticisms made by the Committee that there was a huge variance across the country in the way [enforcement] is carried out. 'Before anecdotal charges are made against local authorities, a sensible and independent auditing process should be undertaken', said Mr Statham, 'We do not accept that local authorities are not able to enforce food safety in a consistent way.

It is very easy to condemn local authorities, but the criticisms lack substance. A key role for the Food Standards Agency will be to set out independent and clear criteria to asses local authority performance'.

Notes

- Reference to Fourth Report of the agriculture committee, Food Safety, published by the Stationary Office 1998. Derogation recommendation -paragraph 117 Dangers of Over-regulation -'We believe the government....should give sympathetic consideration to the possibility of introducing derogations from certain legislative requirements for specific types of small producers and retailers offering exemplary levels of food safety but whose business livelihoods may be threatened by increased administrative costs consequent on greater regulation'.

- Reference to 'inconsistent enforcement', paragraph 113, quoting the British Meat Manufacturers Association, 'It is control and enforcement that is the problem. There is a huge variance across the country in the way it is carried out'.

- The risk rating system is set out in Code of practice No. 9 issued by the Department of Health and MAFF and the Welsh Office, revised August 1997.

- In 1993, a year at the height of the alleged 'enforcement blitz' by Environmental Health Officers, only 19 complaints were received by the Department of Health and, when investigated, most of these were found to be anecdotal or lacked substance.

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