DEFRA SPS standards (UK from 1st Jan 2021)

Lord Gardiner of Kimble made the following statements concerning the SPS standards regime that will operate from 1st Jan 2021 – (these statements made in the final reading of the Agriculture Bill at the House of Lords)

[note: goods placed on the NI market will need to comply with EU law where it’s listed in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol]

(1) The Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland will apply to imports under new free trade agreements. For example, regulated food products will need to pass the FSA’s risk analysis process before being placed on the local market. The FSA has doubled the number of risk assessors since 2017. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff and has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. It has also taken wider consumer interest into account, such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security, drawing on appropriate expertise and stakeholders to do so. The expertise of other government departments and agencies will be brought to bear in the risk assessment process, as required, including the Animal and Plant Health Agency and Defra officials.

(2) Equivalence will be considered by experts in the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Food Standards Agency. The expert advice and evidence on regulated products will then be presented to Ministers and devolved Administrations for a decision on whether these products should be placed on the local market. Secondary legislation would need to be laid before Parliament to authorise new regulated products to be placed on the market.

(3) The functions of audit and inspection, currently carried out by the European Commission, will be repatriated to ensure that trading partners continue to meet local import conditions for food and feed safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare. This will include officials auditing the food production systems and rules of other countries and carrying out inspection visits to facilities in the countries themselves. Verification that requirements are being carried out as stipulated will be conducted through checks at the border. Audits will ensure that trading partners have the necessary infrastructure and regulation in place to export safe food and animal products, which either meet or exceed local import conditions, and will then ensure that these standards are maintained.

(4) The UK Government will take a science-based approach to SPS measures and take their own sovereign decisions on standards and regulations, in line with the principles of the WTO SPS agreement and other relevant internationally recognised guidance.

[Information on the WTO SPS agreement is here – note, it does not of itself set out SPS standards]

(5) Food labelling rules apply to all food intended for supply to final consumers or to caterers. Imported food needs to be fully compliant before it is placed on the local market. The name and address of the local food business, or the importer, will be required on the label from 1st Jan 2021. There are no exceptions to food labelling rules for imported food.

(6) Re Northern Ireland. The withdrawal agreement joint committee met again on 16 July and the Northern Ireland Executive representative again attended, in line with the New Decade, New Approach deal. They exchanged updates on implementation of the protocol and discussed preparatory work for future decisions.

(7) Re quotas that form part of the commitments within the UK goods schedule, which has been lodged at the WTO. The UK has already agreed a common approach with the EU to apportion EU 28 tariff-rate quotas between the UK and EU 27 in order to ensure existing trade flows are maintained. Legislation will be presented by the Treasury later this year under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 to establish new tariff quotas in UK law.

(8) Re Use of gene editing. Until 2018, there was uncertainty within the EU as to whether the living products of gene editing technology should be subject to the same regulatory framework as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), because the legal definition of a GMO was open to interpretation.

In 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that gene edited products must be treated in the same way as GMOs, even if the changes to their genetic material could have been produced by traditional methods, such as crossing varieties of the same species and selecting only the improved individuals.

The UK Government is committed to taking a more scientific approach to regulation.

Gene-edited changes to genetic material that would not arise naturally or from traditional breeding methods will still need to be regulated as genetically modified organisms. The UK Government will consult on this issue. Defra is working on the details so that a consultation can be launched in the autumn.

Further details are set out in the Hansard record – here.

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