Posted: 01/05/2014

Hygiene inspection charges on cards despite lobbying

EHO inspectionAll food businesses could face heavy fees for EHO inspections in future years, despite minor concessions for smaller firms in upcoming EU regulations designed to make industry carry the cost of food safety checks.

MEPs on the EU’s public health and food safety committee, ENVI, voted in April on the text of new Official Controls regulations enabling authorities across Europe to recover the full cost of hygiene inspections.

A week before the vote it emerged a proposed exemption for ‘micro-businesses’ with under 10 employees had been dropped from the draft, sparking fears that small shops and artisan producers could face fees as high as £500 each time their premises are checked.

In a campaign led by Bob Salmon of food hygiene information provider Food Solutions and backed by FFD and the Guild of Fine Food, over 1,100 UK food businesses signed an online petition calling for the exemption to be reinstated. Many also lobbied MEPs directly.

The Guild argues that inspections benefit the public, not business, and should be funded from central taxation. High fees also pose a threat to small firms providing vital employment.

ENVI members accepted an amendment allowing member states to exempt smaller firms from fees if they met set criteria related to food safety risk and business size.

However, with local authorities already struggling to meet the cost of hygiene inspections, many believe the UK will press ahead with charging.

Conservative MEPs had argued that decisions on whether, when and how much to charge for official inspections should be left to member states – which is also the preferred position of the Food Standard Agency (FSA).

Writing to the Guild of Fine Food, Julie Girling, Conservative MEP for South West England, said the FSA was “supportive of a system which gives Member States the flexibility to levy fees as they see fit, rather than have them dictated at a European level”.

This suggests the door is open for the UK to introduce charges to cover all or part of the cost of inspections.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has warned that local authorities will need to charge all food businesses for inspections because central government will not pick up the bill.

But in a letter to ENVI committee members, Bob Salmon said that while UK authorities viewed inspection fees as new income stream, many very small businesses had told him they would have to close if faced with this charge.”

An FSA spokeswoman told FFD: “We are currently negotiating with EU Member States to give the UK flexibility to determine how, when and where to apply inspection charges for official controls – and consequently how best to support smaller businesses. Future decisions on how this will be applied in the UK will be taken in consultation with industry.”

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