Brexit and Food Standards

Besides a backbone of food safety laws, the EU has some useful systems in place which help to keep our food safe. For example, the European Food Safety Authority advises on risk, there is a rapid alert process for sharing information on food problems and also some shared monitoring of food. For example, EU member states commit to check samples of many staples for pesticide residues.

If the UK remains part of these processes and continues to apply very similar food standards legislation, the challenge will come if the UK negotiates trade deals outside the EU. Other countries and trade blocks have built up their own legislation and systems, which may differ from ours in important respects. We would not want to see our standards weakened.

In 2000 I worked with consumer organisations, the UK government and EU Commission to establish the Transatlantic Consumers Dialogue. The idea was to give consumer organisations on both sides of the Atlantic a say in any EU-US trade negotiations. The TACD is still going strong and sets out some helpful principles for food in trade deals, for example:

  • Leave responsibility for food issues with food rather than trade experts
  • Keep and be guided by the precautionary principle (which leads us to err on the safe side)
  • Maintain monitoring, inspection and testing

It is even more vital now that consumer voices continue to be heard on UK food standards and trade issues. Besides consumer organisations and networks like the TACD being active, individual consumer representatives sit on many government committees. These committees are likely to have an increased role as more decisions are taken in the UK rather than the EU. NCF will be watching how the committee landscape develops, calling for full consumer representation, and offering networking opportunities to consumer members.

Ann Davison

Ann is a member of NCF’s food group and its communication committee. Ann established the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue. She was awarded UK Woman of Europe 2000.

How does an EHIC work and do I need one now that we are leaving the EU?

What is an EHIC and how does it work?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free and entitles you to free or reduced-cost medical treatment throughout the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Norway.  In effect, you will be treated as a resident of the country you are visiting.  Be aware that the EHIC applies only to treatment in state hospitals and you may still have to pay something towards the cost of treatment if the condition is serious, so it is important that you also have travel insurance with medical benefits.  Some insurers may even reduce or waive your excess if you have an EHIC.  In some countries, you may have to pay for treatment up-front and reclaim the cost upon your return to the UK.  Visit the NHS Choices website to find out what your EHIC covers in each participating country.

What should I do about an EHIC now?

It is likely to be some time before Britain exits the EU (in all likelihood, at least two years after Article 50 is triggered).  Until then (and perhaps for some time afterwards) EHICs will still be valid. If you plan to holiday in Europe and do not have an EHIC, then get one.  An EHIC has five-year validity, is available free of charge via the NHS website www.nhs.uk/ehic and normally takes no more than seven days to process. (Beware of any websites purporting to facilitate the provision of EHICs for a fee).  If you already have an EHIC card, make sure that it is up to date. An EHIC has a five-year validity and you can find the expiry date on the bottom right of the card.

Brexit and the price of tea

Since announcing our intention to leave the European Union the pound has lost 15% against the euro, is at a three decade low against the dollar, and is predicted to reach parity with the euro by the time we leave the EU in 2019.  The Bank of England has warned of increasing inflation risks, Heineken is putting 6p on the price of a pint, Apple has increased prices by 20%, toy makers are predicting price rises of 15% and there is pressure on the price of a wide range of food.  But what impact has it had on our very British obsession, the price of a cup of tea?

A quick ‘survey’ on food outlets in and around Birmingham revealed the following:

A tea in Sainsbury’s is now £1.10, up from £1.00; in Morrisons it’s now £1.05 as opposed to £1.00, Costa have pushed the price of a small latte from £2.25 to £2.35.  But the worst offender is Joe’s Coffee House who has raised their prices from £1.00 to £2.00 for a takeaway tea.

So how much should you pay for a cardboard cup, plastic lid, tea bag, hot water and a splash or milk and sugar?

At Birmingham’s New Street Station, the commuter can choose from Starbucks at £1.85, Pret £1.70, Muffin Break £1.85, and Joe’s at £2.00 – or they can walk an extra few yards outside the station to McDonalds and grab one for 99p, or cheaper still if you use their loyalty card.

Customer surveys like this are what local consumer groups used to do in the days before we used the internet to shop around.  At their height there were over 100 local groups meeting together to compare what was on offer to the consumer, all supported by the National Consumers Federation (then called the National Federation of Consumer Groups) which acted as their umbrella and made representations to government.

The National Consumers Federation now thinks it’s time to resurrect the consumer voice.  They’re calling a Consumer Congress to talk about the impact of Brexit on consumers and inviting anyone with an interest in all matters consumer – anyone who buys or is the end user of goods or services for their own use – to get involved.  Visit the NCF website or contact us to sign up.  Or if you want to start a local or a virtual consumer interest group, NCF will add their weight to yours.

Best of Brexit for consumers – our messages to government (6th April 2017)

NCF Consumer Congress 2017 brought experts from around the UK together to explore what Brexit means for consumers. Our aim was to send a clear message to the government about the importance of consumer protection, and what needs to be done to maintain and enhance this. Brexit provides a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at consumer protection in the UK, to change the way that consumer issues are addressed, and bring positive benefits to consumers and the UK economy.

NCF Congress 2017 The Consumer Voice on Brexit summary report

BREXIT – regulation?

Brexit – RRegulation an opportunity for the UK to get it right

UK Consumers are about 66% of the UK economy spending over £1,200,000,000,000 per annum.

How we are served by both public and private sectors of the economy is fundamental to the UK’s success, our prosperity, better jobs, more money in our pockets, not being scammed and being able to do want we want and not what others force us to do.

UK regulation of all this will be different post Brexit and the NCF has a thought provoking paper on the likely expansion of UK regulation post Brexit and what we should be doing about it The Consumer and Brexit  – Regulation and Regulators: are we worried?

Let us know what you think give us your views