– in the House of Lords at 4:25 pm on 29th November 2022.
This instrument is made under powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It follows on from the previous EU exit instruments in the field of food and feed safety made since 2019. The Government’s priority is to ensure that we continue to maintain the high standards of food and feed safety and consumer protection we have established. The principal changes introduced by this instrument will ensure that national and GB-wide legislation continues to operate effectively following the UK’s exit from the EU.
The purpose of this instrument is to: amend England regulations in the fields of articles in contact with food, extraction solvents and animal feed to remove cross-references to EU directives and correct other EU exit-related inoperabilities; address a range of remaining deficiencies in retained direct EU legislation in the field of food and feed safety and hygiene to ensure the continued operability of this legislation after exiting the EU; address inoperabilities that have arisen as a consequence of previous deficiency amendments made pursuant to EUWA 2018; extend the tolerance period of three withdrawn genetically modified organisms, GMOs, for a further three years, until
Let me be clear that this instrument does not introduce any changes that will impact the day-to-day operation of food and feed businesses, nor does it introduce any new regulatory burden. The essence of existing legislation is unchanged.
It is important to note that the devolved Governments have some shared and devolved legislative responsibilities in relation to food law. Both Scotland and Wales have provided their consent for the instrument. Amendments brought forward by the instrument do not apply to Northern Ireland. In accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol, EU regulations will continue to apply. However, the Northern Ireland Department of Health has been briefed. We have engaged positively with the devolved Governments throughout the development of the instrument, and I take this opportunity to note that their ongoing engagement has been warmly welcomed.
I take the opportunity to assure noble Lords that the overarching aim of these regulations is to provide continuity for business and to ensure that high standards of safety and quality for food and feed regulation will continue across the UK. The changes do not affect the essence of existing legislation. They address a range of deficiencies in retained direct EU legislation on food contact materials, extraction solvents and animal feed arising from EU exit. They will ensure that appropriate legislative provision is in place to extend the transitional period for the trace presence of withdrawn GMOs in food and feed. Finally, they will provide a time-limited transitional period for edible insects to remain on the market in GB.
Having effective and functional law in this area is key to ensuring that the high standards of food safety and consumer protection we enjoy in this country are maintained in the immediate and long term. I ask noble Lords to support the amendments proposed in this instrument to ensure the continuation of effective food and feed safety and public health controls. I commend the regulations to the House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for bringing forward the statutory instrument this afternoon. While I am, overall, in support of the regulations contained in the instrument, I have two brief questions.
The Government seem to have a certain resistance to the labelling of food—whether it contains GMO, gene- edited or other ingredients. I note with some interest that the Explanatory Memorandum at paragraph 7.6 says that, until we adopt the regulations before us this afternoon, there has been a requirement to use a “Do not eat” pictograph on the products referred to in that paragraph. I would be interested to know the differences between a pictograph and a label. As we move towards adopting our own regulations—as I understand is the Government’s intention going forward—will the Government look favourably on clearly labelling food- stuffs of interest to the consumer where they contain ingredients made from GMO, gene-editing or any similar method, such as in novel foods, which are also referred to here?
It would be interesting know what purposes are intended for the edible insects—they sound most appetising, or perhaps not—which are referred to throughout the regulations. Are they for human, animal or pet consumption? For what purposes are they used?
My last question is: which authorities will implement the regulations before us this afternoon? Will it be the environmental health officers of local authorities? Does my noble friend share my concern that the way that such regulations are being implemented across England, in particular, is patchy owing to the fact that budgets are, obviously, under extreme pressure at the moment? I would be interested to know which will be the implementing authority.
I said that was the final question; I lied. I would like to ask one more question if I may. What will happen to this regulation—and, presumably, one to come for Northern Ireland should this one not apply to Northern Ireland—under the provisions of the retained EU law Bill?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this very interesting statutory instrument, which does, as its title indicates, cover a real bag of miscellaneous items.
The SI provides for the first time for edible insects specific to Great Britain to remain on the market until December 2023. I could not think of an insect specific to Great Britain that I would wish to eat. Having searched the internet, I found that I could buy crunchy crickets and other delicacies, but these did not appear to be indigenous to Great Britain. Can the Minister tell the House to which edible insects this regulation actually relates?
Further on in the Explanatory Memorandum, there is reference to
“regenerated cellulose film intended to come into contact with foodstuffs”.
Having had discussions in the past with the then Minister for Defra, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, about the possibility of recycling this film, I was interested to see it popping up here with conditions for how it was to be used but, sadly, no mention of how it might be recycled.
In Part 3 of the regulations, Regulation 8 covers the use of
“additives for use in animal nutrition”,
which should be fairly straightforward, one would think. A definition of “veterinary medicinal product” used in this context covers
“any substance … having properties for treating or preventing disease in animals”.
However, the definition of “substance” is:
“any matter, irrespective of origin, which may be … human, including human blood and human blood products”,
“animal, including micro-organisms, whole animals, parts of organs, animal secretions, toxins, extracts and blood products”.
Are these really to be used to treat animals that are sick?
Schedule 3 to the regulations lists feed materials that may be included for animals. These include:
“All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals … and … all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcase or parts of the carcase of warm-blooded land animals”.
I can see the benefit of this for a safari park or a zoo but, perhaps, not so for farm animals or companion animals. Is the Minister satisfied with the rigorous testing of these products and that no further incident such as occurred with the outbreak of BSE, when sheep brains were fed to cattle, could occur in the future?
New paragraph 1A(i) in Regulation 9 refers to the health hazard of parasites in fishing grounds but makes no mention of whether the discharge of sewage into fishing grounds could be a hazard. I will not ask the Minister to comment on that.
Lastly, Regulation 19 deals with the authorisation of genetically modified materials and appears to extend that to
As I have said, this SI covers a large number of issues, too numerous to mention today, and contains some corrections of previous errors. While I find some of the SI extraordinary, I do not oppose its passage.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations and the thinking behind them. I accept the assurances that he has given. We on these Benches welcome the regulations, which are about trying to correct the drafting errors and inconsistencies that have inevitably emerged. I say that with no criticism; this is a complex area, and there is a need to tidy up regulations following exit from the European Union.
It is perhaps timely to take this opportunity to praise the work of the Food Standards Agency, and to note that it is one of the strange things about the changes introduced by the Government that Health Ministers now find themselves talking about animal feed. I am sure the Minister is delighted to do so, and I myself have certainly learned a lot today in preparation.
I turn to the regulations. The instrument generally maintains existing regulations and does not introduce new requirements, exactly as the Minister has said. I note that no concerns were raised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments or the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, so I am sure that is cause for celebration on the Government Benches.
We in this country have a good food safety system, and this SI, as others may do, simply tries to ensure that that continues. The problem is of course that the world did not stop when it came to the implementation period completion day. As paragraph 7.13 of the Explanatory Memorandum tactfully puts it, “certain difficulties” emerge,
“especially in relation to the approval of new, or amendment of currently authorised, substances.”
Could the Minister help by elaborating on the difficulties that are posed and any potential costs? What happens with regard to trade when we operate to different standards from those of our near neighbours? The SI addresses the administrative challenge but does not seek to solve the problem.
Similarly, where the review process is described in paragraph 7.15, it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the circumstances in which the Food Standards Agency will be required to review the operation and effect of the regulations. If, for example, a new extraction solvent is approved in the EU, does that automatically trigger a review? Will the Food Standards Agency be required to undertake additional processes to deliver on that? If so, has an assessment been done of whether the FSA has the capacity to undertake such duties, or can the Minister advise whether the FSA will be getting additional resources?
There is the issue of the “Do Not Eat” pictograph, which is referenced in paragraph 7.22. This states that we cannot use it because of “uncertainty” over the intellectual property rights applying to the ownership of the picture, which seems a bit strange because there must be similar cases of artwork where such provenance is uncertain. Was it asked whether we could use it, and was any uncertainty flagged up at the time? How much would a licence have cost? It is probably right to say that it seems a strange way to proceed if we cannot agree on joint use of an existing symbol to promote food safety. That suggests some problems on which the Minister may wish to comment.
I want also to reference the need to reinstate powers to extend the transitional period for the trace presence of withdrawn genetically modified organisms. There is considerable interest in genetic modification, as we know, and some concern that rules on imported products are inconsistent with rules governing domestic production. Can the Minister say a little about the scale of the issue? For example, just how much oilseed rape is there with traces of the withdrawn GM products referenced in this case?
If the Minister is not able to answer the detail of the points that I have raised, I will be pleased to hear from him in writing. We from these Benches certainly welcome the statutory instrument, and thank him and his team for their efforts.
My Lords, it is my duty to close this important debate. Your Lordships perform an essential role in scrutinising the measures we have put forward today, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. Let me turn, as best I can, to answering some of the points raised. Where I do not quite succeed, I will gladly follow up in writing.
First, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked for an explanation about the pictograph. My understanding is that it is a picture which does not depend on a specific language to understand it. On what happens regarding the IP rights behind it, my understanding—again, I will confirm this—is that a number of questions were asked as to the ownership of those rights. The IP ownership was unclear, so the process for even trying to license it was not clear. That was the issue at hand, but I will come back with further detail on it.
Turning to the other questions, my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked how the SI will affect the retained EU law Bill. The Food Standards Agency is carefully considering the scope of the powers in the retained EU law Bill and whether they can be used to deliver a better, bespoke British system of food safety. Those will all be part of what we go through in the coming weeks and months.
On the labelling of GM and other foods, there are regulations requiring mandatory measures in the traceability and labelling of GM products. This is seen as necessary to inform a consumer about their choice whether to buy and eat GM food, so that will take place in all these cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked about the level. My understanding is that it is a minor trace level, consistent with what exists today, but, again, I will follow up on the detail of that. We have been working with the FSA in these areas, which feels that it is in a position to answer and regulate in this area.
Perhaps my favourite question related to edible insects; I only wish I had known about this before “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” They are apparently for human consumption. I can write on this if noble Lords let me know whether they would like the Latin or the English version, but they are apparently: the lesser mealworm, the house cricket, the yellow mealworm, the banded or decorated cricket, the bird grasshopper or desert locust, the migratory locust, and the black soldier fly. I will not try to read the Latin out for each of those, but I will happily put them down in writing.
I was asked why this could not be included in the precision breeding Bill. The wider question of the future of precision breeding and gene editing is not considered by this SI and would be a matter for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. For now, the commercial cultivation of gene-edited plants and any food products derived from them will still need to be authorised in accordance with existing GMO rules.
On the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, on safety going forward, as I said, our approach to food safety is and always will be underpinned by three principles: that UK food remains safe and what it says it is; that the high standard of food safety and consumer protection that we enjoy in this country is maintained; and that, following our exit from the EU, a robust and effective regulatory regime is in place, which means that business can continue as normal.
I hope that I have answered the detailed questions. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, I did not expect to need to understand this as part of my brief, but it is part of the rich variety of my job. I thank noble Lords for their questions and their support, generally, for our proposals. To reiterate: these regulations are critical to ensure that the UK consumer continues to enjoy the high standards of safety and quality provided by UK food and feed regulations. This instrument makes no changes to policy or to how food and feed businesses are regulated, and it is limited to necessary amendments to ensure that.
I press my noble friend on what the implementing authority will be.
I apologise; I will definitely need to come back in writing on this, but my understanding is that, at a local level, it will be local authorities. I am grateful for noble Lords’ contributions and the sincerity of their views.