New opportunities abound

Viviana Spaghetti is Senior political consultant at issues-led communications agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy

The wheels of Brexit move very slowly indeed, but in mid-November the Government introduced the EU Withdrawal Bill into the House of Commons. This transfers EU law into UK legislation, ensuring that there are no legislative gaps when Britain finally departs in March 2019.

Setting aside the controversy over this Bill – which is arguably more around Parliamentary scrutiny and less about the content of the Bill itself – the introduction of it into the Commons is an excellent opportunity for the health food industry to start seriously thinking about what it wants from Brexit.

Whatever your thoughts today about Brexit, there is no doubt that certain pieces of EU food law are burdensome, unnecessary, barely enforceable and damaging for businesses and consumers alike. That they will be transferred into UK law (as well as the sensible, proportionate rules that EU has made over the years) is irritating but it is also inevitable: if politicians in Westminster were to examine every clause of the tens of thousands of laws being transferred over then we would get around to Brexit in about March 2119.

So a bit of realism about when unhelpful EU laws will be ditched is in order: it won’t be anytime soon, and the process will be tricky. Many different interest groups in many different sectors will want Government departments to prioritise their own concerns first. The food industry, particularly the natural health food industry, needs to work hard to get a hearing.

Industry needs to identify first what it wants to change and work together to achieve that change. Businesses and trade associations must be clear that anything that they are advocating will not imperil consumer safety, but will instead maintain high levels of protection for the public while allowing industry to function better.

Where better to start than with the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation? This blockbuster law was passed back in 2006 to regulate ‘commercial communications’ made by food companies and is currently under EU review. Parts of it remain unimplemented, other sections of it are rarely enforced. Regulators themselves heartily dislike the Regulation, as it has added significantly to their workload for no real benefit to the consumer.

There is a saner way forward. Instead of having to undergo a painstaking, lengthy, expensive assessment process to make a claim about their product, the burden of proof could be switched back to companies to produce solid evidence for what they’re saying and authorities could clamp down on the most serious offences.

The best thing that the health food industry can do is take advantage of the opportunities that exist – and start preparing now.

Find out more about how to take advantage of the opportunities Brexit offers via The Whitehouse Consultancy’s dedicated website www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk/project_brexit

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