The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned Ministers that a failure to protect access to Europe-wide food safety and animal health systems after Brexit will increase the risk of a new horsemeat-style scandal.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils across England and Wales, claimed repeated budget cuts had left trading standards, environmental health and port health teams unable to safeguard the food supply without continued rights to use EU databases.
Two key systems the UK could lose access to after Brexit are the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), which sends urgent notifications across Europe on threats such as pesticide residues, Salmonella and E-Coli, and the Trade Control and Export System (TRACES), which manages all sanitary requirements for animals, semen and embryos, food, feed and plants.
Together, these databases allow regulators to target their enforcement activity by tracing high-risk products and providing intelligence about potential contamination, but under the terms of the Brexit divorce deal, UK access would be cut off after 2020.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, chairman of the LGA’s Brexit taskforce, said: “The UK has painful recent experience of the damage which is caused when food and feed are compromised.
“If we lose access to these databases, we will lose access to vital intelligence about the origin of food, feed and animal products, and will not be aware when rapid alerts are issued to the rest of the continent.
“This will significantly weaken our ability to effectively protect the food system, increasing the risk of a new scandal and undermining public confidence in the food industry.
“After years of funding reductions, we simply do not have the capacity to increase checks to offset this risk, either at ports or inland, unless this is fully funded.
“Without additional capacity, there is simply no alternative to continuing to receive and share this type of information.”
The horsemeat scandal in 2013 hit red meat sales and caused lasting reputational damage for the retailers involved.
National Beef Association chief executive Chris Mallon has previously told Farmers Guardian food scares hit rule-abiding farmers hardest.