CONCERNS have been raised about a “lack of import controls” post-Brexit on food safety.

Watchdogs at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) raised the issue in a report which told how the current situation means there is no “official assurance” from the exporting country that items coming into the UK meet its “high standards”.

The UK imports about 40 million tonnes of food from overseas each year, with the EU remaining the biggest supplier – accounting for more than 90% of all beef, dairy, eggs and pork products imported into the UK and nearly two thirds (65%) of all food and feed that doesn’t originate from animals.

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The FSA and FSS stressed there is no evidence the standards of products coming from the European Union have fallen, but they said: “The current situation does reduce our ability to prevent foods that do not meet the UK’s high standards from being placed on our market.”

The report said that despite two years of “major upheaval” following Brexit – notably Covid and the war in Ukraine – food safety standards had largely been maintained during 2021.

However, with safety inspection decreasing in number amid the pandemic, they stressed this conclusion was “cautious”.

Both organisations noted there were “significant risks ahead” and have called on the UK Government to improve controls by the end of 2023. The report also highlighted a lack of qualified professionals to conduct local authority inspections.

Looking at people’s eating habits, the report also said the pandemic had a “mixed impact”, with people preparing healthier meals at home while also indulging more on unhealthy snacks.

Meanwhile, the report said the 4.5% rise in food prices between December 2020 and 2021 was “the greatest annual increase since 2010”.

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The annual rise has since increased to 6.7% from April 2021 to 2022 – UK households are now spending an average of £72.45 a week on food.

FSS chair Heather Kelman said it was “encouraging” that high food standards had been maintained, but the “full effects of these momentous events will have an impact for years to come”.

She added: “We are under no illusions there are major challenges ahead. There is a significant issue in relation to local authority resourcing, which could impact the ability to carry out inspections, food law delivery and, at the very core, it could cause a risk to public health.

“Establishing full UK import controls is also an issue which has the potential to not only damage consumer confidence, but ultimately affect the high standards of foods being placed on the market in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

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A UK Government spokesperson said: “When the UK left the European Union we regained the right to manage our own borders in a way that works for Britain. This includes how we manage imports into our country from overseas.

“Our new borders strategy will focus on technology to reduce unnecessary costs and delays – which will help businesses and consumers across the UK.

“The controls introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products will continue to apply in order to safeguard the UK’s biosecurity.”