Taskforce Report on Regulatory Reform may prove Influential

A recent Taskforce report on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform FINAL_TIGRR_REPORT__1_.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk) was drawn up by Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers and George Freeman and published last month, May 2021. It is currently being considered by Boris Johnson. 

The taskforce report looked at the regulatory approach for the UK and promoted a collaborative, proportionate and flexible common law approach, based on risk rather than ‘tick box’ compliance.

As well as recommendations made for the financial sector, replacing GDPR and recommendations for net zero technologies, the report also looked at agri-environmental innovation, agricultural genomics and nutraceuticals. Overall the promotion of cutting red tape and ensuring a risk based approach should be encouraged.

The more open approach to GM and agri-tech is apparent. In particular, it is stated: ‘For many decades, the UK has been a powerhouse in agricultural science, with significant centres of deep scientific expertise in both the public and private sector, across the UK: from Aberystwyth to Roslin, Rothamstead, Norwich and East Malling in Kent. Allowing GE science in these centres to be commercialised would set the UK apart from the EU as a biotechnology innovation hub, and it would promote substantial inward investment. The export opportunities to countries already using gene technology could be huge.’

Additionally, on the post CAP and Agricultural Act position re 'public goods' it is stated ‘the UK has a huge opportunity to lead this next agricultural revolution by using our post CAP freedom to pioneer a new farm support regime which rewards genuine environmental enhancement and empowers consumers to make informed choices about the food they buy.’

Agri-Environment

Overall Recommendation: Replace EU rules with an integrated agri-environment framework which better supports the development of more environmentally sustainable agriculture, with more proportionate and evidence-based, outcomes-focussed regulation.

  • Promote a flexible, market based trading system for biodiversity offset credits.
  • Implement with urgency the data sharing provisions in the Agriculture Act 2020 to unlock data silos in agriculture and the environment.
  • Develop a comprehensive system of environmental metrics for sustainable agriculture, incorporating the environmental impacts of a production system from field to fork, to support clearer food labelling.
  • Develop a supportive regulatory environment to enable the development of and increased use of agri-tech to promote sustainable agriculture.
  • Simplify compliance with environmental licensing and permitting requirements, with the aim of moving from a mechanistic compliance-based system toward outcome measurement.
  • Deliver a common-sense solution to transitioning chemical registrations from EU to the UK REACH.
  • Introduce further exemptions to Annex XVII of UK REACH to allow the reuse of products in support of the UK’s circular economy ambition.
  • Reform landfill surrender requirements to accelerate diversification away from landfill.
  • Adopt a risk-based approach to waste regulation to drive greater re-use of waste products.
  • Remove burdensome EU regulation on the animal feed industry, whilst maintaining rigorous safety standards.

Agricultural genomics

Overall Recommendation: The UK Government should actively support research into and commercial adoption by UK farmers and growers of gene edited crops, particularly those which help the transition away from agrochemicals to naturally occurring biological resilience.

  • Interpret current GM rules on a case-by-case basis, to permit specific crops with proven benefits and which are consistent with the UK’s rigorous standards on food safety and environmental protection.

Nutraceuticals

Overall Recommendation: Create a new regulatory framework for the fast-growing category of novel health enhancing foods and supplements to promote investment in the UK as a leader in the nutraceutical sector.

  • Establish clear regulatory standards and definitions for ‘nutraceutical products and create a permissive environment for regulation of products with accepted science outcomes, to form a new easier nutraceutical product regulation pathway.
  • Encourage NIHR to gather data to support claims and enable research into products medicinal and health properties, lead on international standardisations and ensure a pathway to market, so that consumers are aware of the health benefits and better able to make informed choices.

Additional recommendations particularly pertinent to food and agri sectors included:

  • Promote productivity, competition and innovation through a new framework of proportionate, agile and less bureaucratic regulation.
  • Make the UK a global pioneer and leader in agile, adaptive regulation to increase productivity, competition and innovation.
  • Mandate a new “Proportionality Principle” at the heart of all UK regulation.
  • Give regulators statutory objectives to promote competition and innovation in the markets they regulate.
  • Establish a framework for regulators to report publicly on how they have promoted competition and innovation in the markets they regulate
  • Set a UK standards strategy to promote the use of British standards internationally as a way to boost UK influence and promote trade and exports.
  • Amend the Weights and Measures Act 1985 to allow traders to use imperial measurements without the equivalent metric measurement.
  • Develop an optional e-labelling system for devices with screens or that can be connected to a screen, to display compliance information.
  • Repeal the Port Services Regulation 2019 (SI 2019 No. 575) to remove unnecessary, EU-derived regulatory burdens on UK ports.
  • Liberalise parallel import laws to reduce prices and increase choice for consumers.

Conclusion

It remains to be seen how much effect this Taskforce paper may have; it has been emphasised the report does not advocate a simplistic ‘bonfire of red tape’; but rather stresses that good regulation - well thought through - can give confidence to global investors, protect consumers, workers and the environment, and secure a range of crucial policy outcomes. The report also makes reference to the Red Tape Challenge that was launched in 2011 to remove 'unnecessary and burdensome' regulation. In 2014, the Government announced that the project had saved businesses £10 billion over four years. Many of the Challenge’s proposals were subsequently included in the Deregulation Act 2015.  Therefore, it may well be that, equally, some of the ideas and direction of travel outlined in this taskforce report will prove to be very influential. 

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