Food Standards Scotland (FSS) is warning of major risks and impacts to Scottish consumers in relation to food safety and standards if the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill is progressed in its current form.
When announced in January 2022, the Bill was introduced to help facilitate the easier amendment, replacement and repeal of retained EU law.
However, the Bill, which was published on Thursday (22 September, 2022), would result in the removal of consumer protections relating to food which have applied in Scotland and the rest of the UK for many years.
Retained EU law currently obligates businesses to label for allergens and provide clear food information to consumers. It also restricts the use of decontaminants on meat, for example chlorine washes on chicken, as well as setting maximum permitted levels of chemical contaminants in food. At its most basic level, retained EU law obligates businesses to maintain minimum levels of hygiene and to recall food that is unsafe.
This Bill also directly impacts on protections in relation to the safety and composition of baby foods and other vulnerable groups could also be affected.
Unless action is taken, which would require a substantial resource in an extraordinarily short timeframe, to save these standards in law and effectively maintain the protection of consumers, these safeguards will disappear on 31 December, 2023. Hard pressed resources will now have to be devoted to introducing new law to maintain existing law to protect Scottish consumers.
Even if high legal standards continued to apply in Scotland, the Internal Market Act, which was introduced in 2020, despite significant concerns voiced by FSS which were ignored, means that there would be no way of stopping goods from elsewhere in the UK being sold in Scotland produced under lower legal standards.
Heather Kelman, Chair of FSS, commented:
“At the heart of what we do, is our responsibility to protect Scottish consumers. This Bill, as it currently stands, poses a significant risk to Scotland’s ability to uphold the high safety and food standards which the public expects and deserves.
“Much of the legislation which could be repealed as a result of the sun-setting clause has been developed over the course of decades and with significant UK input and influence. It exists to ensure consumer safety through the protection of the most vulnerable and ensuring the food and feed which is on the market is safe.
“This Bill could lead to a significant hole where consumer protections sit. The purpose of regulators and regulations, especially in relation to food, is to protect consumers. This Bill confuses ‘red tape’ with consumer protection and indicates that the latter is now less of a priority and of less importance than when we were in the EU.
“Whichever way consumers voted on Brexit, they did not vote for a race to the bottom of lower standards and a de-regulated landscape that reduces consumer protection. We cannot imagine that this is what the UK Government intends.”
Angus Robertson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture in the Scottish Government has written a letter of ‘his deep concerns’ about removing the food standards we have all come to rely upon.
In his letter to Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the UK Government, Angus Robertson states:
“This bill puts at risk the high standards people in Scotland have rightly come to expect from EU membership. You appear to want to row back 47 years of protections in a rush to impose a deregulated, race to the bottom, society and economy. This is clearly at odds with the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Scotland who will be dismayed at the direction the UK Government is taking.”
Angus Robertson goes on to highlight the important protections we in Scotland expect and which we will now lose.
“Here are just some of the important standards and practices which are woven into our society and which people in this country, quite rightly, take for granted in their daily lives, which you are now putting at risk with this bill’s introduction:
- obligations to label food for allergens to consumers;
- holiday pay, safe limits on working hours and parental leave will all become subject to amendment by a UK Government with an open ambition for deregulation;
- over 100 pieces of legislation ensure the health and welfare of both humans and animals by providing a last line of defence against importing dangerous pests and pathogens;
- laws which, were they to be removed, could result in GMO food and feed being placed on the UK market without any food safety assessment taking place, nor any obligation to label such food for consumers;
- legal limits on chemical contaminants in food, with possible consequences to human health;
- restrictions on use of decontaminants on meat, such as the chlorine washes on chicken, and businesses’ minimum hygiene standards more generally;
- incredibly, protections in relation to the safety and compositional standards of baby foods. Without legal standards, there would be no enforcement leaving some of our most vulnerable groups, and the public more generally, without any substantive protection.”
“the pursuit of this mirage of Brexit freedoms puts at risk environmental, food and animal welfare standards, as well as consumer protection, workers’ rights and business certainty. It does so unnecessarily – the BEIS Business Perception survey from 2020 reported that less than two-fifths (37%) of businesses agreed that regulation is an obstacle to success.” Retained EU Law Bill: letter to the UK Government
Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU in the 2016 advisory referendum. Many Scottish products lost their protected named status which not only added to consumer confidence but which was a valuable selling point internationally, worth millions.
Not content with plunging the UK economy into recession; removing the rights of workers, citizens and refugees; ignoring international laws protecting refugees and the Northern Ireland protocol; underfunding vital services like our NHS and opening it up for privatisation; this Tory UK Government is now engaged in destroying the respect our farming and food production sectors have worldwide. Unbelievably even endangering the lives of our youngest by removing protections on baby foods.
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