Association warns that post-Brexit efforts to support public health will be undermined without access to key intelligence
The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the Government and the EU to ensure councils can still access European databases on food safety and animal health after Brexit.
It warned that if councils are denied access to key intelligence it will weaken their ability to protect public health and increase the risk of a new food scandal.
Currently the UK contributes to a number of key databases that build intelligence on the integrity of food and feed across Europe, most notably the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES).
RASFF enables information to be shared between its members and provides a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to collectively and efficiently. In 2016, a total of 2,993 original notifications were transmitted through the RASFF, of which 847 were classified as alert, with the UK fifth highest in overall notifications.
The LGA said that councils are warning of the increased risk to public health if regulators are not able to access these systems and are calling on the Government and EU to ensure that, regardless of what form the final Brexit agreement takes, the UK retains access to these mechanisms.
Councillor Kevin Bentley, chair of the LGA’s Brexit Taskforce, said: “If we lose access to these databases, we will lose access to vital intelligence about the origin of food, feed and animal products, and won’t be aware when rapid alerts are issued to the rest of the continent.
“This will significantly weaken our ability to effectively protect the food system, increasing the risk of a new scandal and undermining public confidence in the food industry.
“After years of funding reductions for trading standards and environmental health, we simply do not have the capacity to increase checks to offset this risk, either at ports or inland, unless this is fully funded. Without additional capacity, there is simply no alternative to continuing to receive and share this type of information.
“Continued access to these EU wide databases is of vital importance and the Government and the European Union must ensure that it is maintained.”
Supporting regulatory officers
The LGA pointed out that, whilst still a member of the EU, the UK is part of a European-wide framework of rules and systems based upon scientific evidence which ensures the traceability of high risk products – notably food, feed and animal products – and provides rapid access to intelligence about contamination of products, helping to build a picture about suspect suppliers. This ensures that local regulatory officers at councils have access to information for targeting their enforcement activity.
It said that exiting the EU without agreement on this matter would leave regulators in limbo in March 2019, and even under the terms of the draft EU-UK withdrawal agreement, access to such databases would be switched off when the transition period comes to an end in 2020.
The warning is the latest on the implications for data systems of Brexit. There have been warnings that Whitehall departments are unlikely to have the IT systems and infrastructure in place to deal with agricultural imports and exports, that ports will not have the digital infrastructure in place, and that a loss of data sharing rights could undermine national security.
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