Food & Drink Sector Update – July 2017

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EU China Safe

A project headed by Queen’s University Belfast has been granted €10 million by the European Horizon 2020 program and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology program.

The project, labelled EU China Safe, is to tackle fraud and improve food safety. Its focus is to improve food legislation, food inspection and increasing access to information and to crack down on cases of food fraud.Food fraud is estimated to be worth, globally, $52bn a year. The horsemeat scandal of 2013, where horse meat was sold and marketed as beef, is one such example of the ways food fraud can appear.

The ever increasing amount of importing and exporting food products can increase the chances of foodborne illnesses considerably, and transparency of movement and information is key to reducing this risk significantly.It will be interesting to see what new regulations will be implemented as a result of this project as a united effort to reduce risk to the industry.

Hung Parliament

As the election results rolled in through the evening of 8 June and the morning revealed the result to be a hung parliament, many were left asking the question of what this means to them.

The food and drink industry is one particularly affected by June’s general election. Not only with the previous assumption that Theresa May was likely leaning towards a hard Brexit, she is now leading a minority government together with the DUP on an informal confidence and supply basis. The DUP, in their interest in maintaining a soft border with the Republic of Ireland, are in favour of a soft Brexit and it is their support that will keep the current government in power.

With the uncertainty in the air regarding any potential trade agreements, the plan to leave the EU Customs Union and the ‘clock ticking for negotiations to start, there has been an increasing amount of calls all over the industry’. This stance is likely due to the probability that a minority government will find it difficult to hold a hard line approach in talks with the EU.It is crucial to the UK’s food and drink industry that the government secures a deal that will keep benefitting it. In Scotland alone there has been a £124m increase in food and drink exports, with 70% coming directly from EU sales.

EU Milk Alternative Labelling Ruling

The EU has ruled that plant-based dairy alternatives can no longer use the terms milk, butter or cheese, for any product that does not contain dairy on the grounds that using those terms could mislead the consumer.

It is expected that all non-dairy items containing these terms will have to be re-labelled these products, the exception being coconut milk and almond milk.

The ruling has been welcomed by several dairy companies, who have suggested that consumers can now be sure that these products will be made solely from dairy.

However, it has not been welcomed by all with several Vegan and Vegetarian groups debating that there has been an increasingly large number of consumers turning to plant-based alternatives and that it would be evident that the alternatives are not made from dairy.

This ruling follows a letter by 32 Congressmen in the USA that calls on the FDA (Food and Drug Agency) to ban the use of dairy terms being used for plant-based alternatives.

Pesticide Ban

A total ban of pesticides that are thought to harm bees proposed by the EU has been criticised by the NFU (National Farmers Union).

The Union has called to the EU to make “evidence-based” decisions regarding the plan and that, if mistakes are made, it could cost farmers up to £1bn.

Even if this may not have a great impact due to Brexit, it does raise the question of what regulations the government will keep and what they will discard.

The head of crop protection at Rothamsted Research has stated that they believe that any revision or new regulation to the industry must be underpinned by scientific evidence and not ban threats that may or may not exist at all.


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