Following Brexit, changes in food law will affect every UK farmer, grower and food producer. Anyone involved in supplying or producing food is being urged to fully understand the legal implications of Britain leaving the EU.

Reading University is offering three online courses in 2020 with the first, ‘Food Law: The Basics’ starting on January 20th. The courses are available through the Agrifood Training Partnership, and anybody can enrol to better understand how Britain’s exit from the EU will affect food imports and exports in the future.

Course tutor Dr David Jukes, explains “Assuming we leave the EU there will be no end to potential changes in food law. The belief is that Britain can fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements. However, these will not necessarily help British farmers and businesses to trade with EU nations once we no longer share EU laws.”

Dr Jukes predicts change will not be immediate, but expects every decision made after Britain’s exit from the EU to be complicated. “The day we leave, UK law will apply but, in most cases, this will simply be retained EU law until new ones are made. However, some problems will arise immediately. An example would be in hygiene standards for food products. The current veterinary hygiene mark is an oval containing the letters ‘EC’, and it is approved for use by all EU member states. When we leave, we will no longer be legally able to use this and so an alternative UK health mark has been prepared. However, if there is no deal, potentially any EU nation could choose not to recognise our new hygiene mark until we have been audited as a ‘third country’. This could prevent British food producers exporting these products to the EU.”

UK food law currently follows the rules adopted by the EU that are applied to ensure the effective functioning of the internal market. Therefore, the effects of any changes in food law will have to be considered carefully so as not to disrupt trade. “An example of this would be relaxing laws that regulate contaminants in food. Residues on fruit used to make jam for instance. The EU currently has specified residue limits. If the UK were to relax its laws on residues, exports from the UK could be blocked. The reverse might also apply. If the UK were to set a tighter residue limit then it would make it harder for importers and it could block EU products,” explains Dr Jukes.

There are already new EU laws which have been agreed but are still to come into effect.  One example is the declaration on labels of the origin of primary ingredients. This applies to products where an ingredient is more than 50 percent of the product. UK food producers will have to consider how this impacts British products containing ingredients from outside the EU that are subsequently sold to countries within the EU. “Once we leave, decision making will become increasingly complicated. For example, if a company makes a product with chicken sourced from the USA (possibly cheaper than the current source) it may not meet EU standards.  And if more than 50 percent of that product is American chicken and labelled as such, it will almost certainly be banned by the EU,” explains Dr Jukes.

All those looking to buy or sell meat, fresh produce or manufactured food products are urged to seek advice or take a course offered by Reading University to better understand the different elements of food law – whether UK or EU law or the role of international bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius and the World Trade Organisation.  Understanding how the elements fit together will enable more effective assessment of the changes to the legal requirements brought about by Brexit and the impact on businesses.