Food Legislation an effective Way to protect public health

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Introduction

The past decades were marked with the rapid evolution and transformation of food legislation in the UK and the rest of Europe. Conventional elements of risk mitigation and control were abandoned, giving place to the implementation of numerous self-regulatory mechanisms of food quality evaluation and control. The growing scope of public health issues and the role of food quality and safety for public wellbeing place additional burden of legal, social, and legal responsibility on food manufacturers and suppliers. Simultaneously, greater reliance on self-regulatory mechanisms illustrates a rapid change in public attitudes toward risk management in the food industry. Today, businesses carry greater responsibility for meeting the broad demands for food quality and public health protection, especially in food poisoning/ hygiene. Enforced self-regulation in food hygiene regulations has significant advantages and serious drawbacks, but gives a hope that UK food manufacturers can zero the risks of food poisoning and its risks for public health. This paper discusses the current state of food hygiene legislation in the UK in the context of food poisoning, its philosophy and relevance in the present day business environment. The main thesis of the paper is that philosophy of enforced self-regulation is a reliable measure of public health protection, which can potentially reduce the risks of food poisoning but requires efficient mechanisms of enforcement and regulatory compliance.

Public health: a multitude of meanings

Public health is rightly considered as an essential factor of social stability and wellbeing. Protection of public health remains one of the top social priorities in the developed world. The relevance and significance of public health issues are difficult to underestimate, but the meaning of public health itself is extremely difficult to define (Parmet 2009). Parmet (2009) uses a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggests that public health is "the health of the population as a whole, especially as monitored, regulate, and promoted by the state" (p.7). However, the Oxford English Dictionary is not a measure of last resort in defining the scope and underlying meanings of public health. For example, the Institute of Medicine defines public health as a complex set of collective measures, to which societies apply, to ensure that their people are healthy (Parmet 2009). However, all these definitions consistently emphasize the importance and dominance of the word "public", whereas the meaning and philosophy of "health" remains beyond professional attention.

Defining the term "public health" is impossible without trying to define the word "health" in it. The meanings and definitions of health are numerous and varied. The Oxford English Dictionary treats health as soundness of body and its functions, meaning that the notion of health is both individually and socially constructed (Parmet 2009). Simply stated, a person with sound body and sound functions does not carry any dangerous implications for public health. The World Health Organization goes further and defines health as the state of absolute mental, physical, and social well-being (Parmet 2009). In this sense, WHO also implies that health is not limited to normal physiological functioning but necessitates social stability and normal social conditions of life (Parmet 2009). As a result, public health can be defined as a complex set of collective measures, aimed at maintaining normal mental, physical, and social functioning in society. In this context, food legislation is one of the vital preconditions for developing and maintaining sound systems of public health. The current state of food legislation in the UK and the recent changes in its philosophy have proved to be an effective measure of social and health stability in the British society. The difficulties with regulation oversight and compliance do not always render enforced self-regulation as efficient and justified. Nevertheless, food hygiene regulations hold a promise to raise the quality of public health protection in the United Kingdom.

Food legislation and food poisoning in the UK: a brief insight into the history

A detailed review of food legislation in the countries of Europe suggests that the United Kingdom was able to develop and maintain a well-functioning, practical system of regulatory control in its food industry (Braiwaite & Drahos 2000). This is, probably, why food hygiene requirements and the system of protecting food from the risks of poisoning in Britain are easy to understand. The quality of the first law was far from perfect, and its enforcement had been extremely ineffective (Thomas & Bishop 2007). Only Guilds could promote and maintain high quality of food products (Thomas & Bishop 2007). Since the very beginning of food hygiene regulations in Britain, businesses had extensively relied on risk assessment and control: each commodity was checked, prior to being used in the manufacturing process (Thomas & Bishop 2007). That was one of the best and most reliable ways to prevent food poisoning in Britain. Today, process controls remains one of the most important features of food hygiene regulations in the European Union and the United Kingdom (Howard 2004).

The industrial revolution caused a profound shift in public consciousness. New perceptions of public risks created a foundation for developing a new system of public health protection in Britain. Massive movement of the British population from rural territories to towns caused a rapid change in how food products were created, developed, manufactured and sold (Thomas & Bishop 2007). Those who moved to towns were no longer able to produce food products and had to rely on other food manufacturers and suppliers (Thomas & Bishop 2007). That was the moment when the risks and benefits of complex food legislation began to dawn on the British population. By the middle of the 19th century, food adulteration became one of the most serious public issues; a Select Committee on Food Adulteration was created, reflecting the growing public food legislation concerns; the Sale of Food and Drugs Act of 1875 that followed established the basis for developing the current food legislation law in the UK (Thomas & Bishop 2007). The Act required that "no person shall sell to the prejudice of the purchaser any article or any food thing which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by such purchases" (Thomas & Bishop 2007, p.230). This statement later became the principal element in the development of contemporary food legislation philosophy in the UK (Thomas & Bishop 2007).

In 1943, all principles and standards of food legislation in Britain were reconsidered and reviewed, "to create a new vision of food safety in the UK" (Thomas & Bishop 2007). The Food and Drugs Act of 1955 marked a new stage in the evolution of food and public health protection (Thomas & Bishop 2007). The Food Safety Act of 1990 became the central feature and defining element of food legislation in Great Britain. Today, the Food Safety Act of 1990 remains the primary ingredient of British food legislation. Surprisingly or not, public health was not always the principal factor of food legislation in the UK: the first laws had been developed to sustain a change in consumer consciousness and guarantee that the principal consumer rights were protected. It was not before the middle of the 20th century that the importance of food legislation for the future of public health was realized.

The current state of food legislation in the UK exemplifies a unique combination of numerous philosophic principles and assumptions. The Food Safety Act of 1990 creates a foundation for developing numerous food safety regulations, orders, and prescriptions, which are both health- and consumer oriented. Other standards of food manufacturers' compliance include Food Standards Act of 1999, European Communities Act of 1972, Prices Act of 1974, as well Animal Health Act of 1981, Medicines Act of 1968, Public Health Act of 1984, and Food and Environment Protection Act of 1985 (Thomas & Bishop 2007). Unfortunately, food poisoning remains a serious issue in public health in the UK. Recent statistics show that campylobacter is one of "the most frequent causes of food poisoning in Great Britain" (POST 2009). The greatest number of deaths from food is caused by salmonella (POST 2009). Thus, it is not surprising that Great Britain has a whole range of food hygiene regulations and orders, which must protect citizens from the risks of food poisoning and its health complications. The most common food safety requirements are included in Food Hygiene Regulation 852/2004, which was enforced in January 2006. This type of Food Hygiene Regulation was designed to address the major causes of increased food poisoning in the UK, including changing patterns of food consumption, emergence of new food infections, including E.coli, and the growing globalization of food markets (POST 2009). Food Hygiene regulation in Britain is based on the principles of European food law and promotes the role of enforced self-regulation in increasing safety of food products.

Food legislation: Philosophy and underlying meanings

British food legislation reflects the principles and standards of the European food law (Black 2005). Technical progress is a distinctive feature of modern food manufacturing, and the new European food legislation emphasizes the importance of process control, from the creation of agricultural resources to the development of end products for consumers (Henson & Heasman 1998). The philosophy of process control in food legislation reflects significant changes in consumer attitudes toward food risks. Technological progress opens new opportunities for food manufacturing, and it is essential that the risks of using technology in the food industry are monitored and controlled (Henson & Heasman 1998). Process control illustrates a profound shift in the philosophy of public health, as long as "checks on the end product alone would clearly not be capable of providing the same level of safety, quality and transparency to the consumer" (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992, p.100). Food Hygiene Regulation 852/2004 requires that British food manufacturers use the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system (HACCP) (POST 2009). This system is a vital component of process control and effective way to prevent food poisoning in the UK: it works to prevent food contamination at each stage of the food manufacturing process (POST 2009). It should be noted, that the first HACCP requirements in Britain were implemented in 2002, following a large outbreak of E.Coli in the UK (POST 2009). Today, HACCP codes of practice provide flexibility and simplify all regulatory processes. They emphasize the importance of risk prevention and enforced self-regulation. All businesses in the British food industry are obliged to perform hazard analysis and prevent contamination of food (POST 2009).

The development and implementation of food regulations in Britain were influenced by broad changes in the attitudes toward food manufacturing and consumption. British food legislation system is based on a reasonable belief that identifying the biggest risk factors in food manufacturing is the foundation for developing efficient prevention strategies (Coker & Martin 2006). This is one of the reasons why simplification of the regulatory regime became one of the top legislative priorities in the UK (Coker & Martin 2006). The principal goal of regulatory simplification is to develop a "commitment to progressive reduction in regulatory burdens" (Coker & Martin 2006, p.18) and provide businesses with extensive guidance in regards to the quality and importance of food legislation compliance. These simplified risk-prevention principles are reflected in new Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs Regulation, which were enforced in 2006 (FSA 2006). Businesses can use the criteria, to check the relevance of their risk management systems and zero the risks of food contamination and poisoning (FSA 2006). These criteria also serve the basic criterion of evaluating the acceptability of food products and their safety for the public.

Enforced self-regulation is the basic element of modern food hygiene legislation in the UK. The regulatory and philosophic implications of self-regulation for public health in the UK are two-fold: on the one hand, enforced self-regulation illustrates the growing reliance of the state on businesses and their responsibility to comply with food regulations and standards (Coker & Martin 2006). On the other hand, enforced self-regulation provides businesses with sufficient freedom to define, assess, and mitigate their food risks (Coker & Martin 2006). Enforced self-regulation must replace conventional principles of command and control and make public health protection more efficient, relevant, and justified. Previously, the state carried the primary responsibility for managing public food and health risks (McCormick 1993). As a result, state legislators continuously failed to identify and prevent all food risks; in their turn, businesses were reluctant or failed to comply with their risk management responsibilities (McCormick 1993). Given that the role of businesses in preventing the proliferation of public health risks is vital (Genn 1993; Kaferstein 2003), enforced self-regulation holds a promise to enhance the efficiency of public health protection procedures that are created and realized by the state.

According to Ayres and Braithwaite (1992), "enforced self-regulation is a mix of state and business regulatory efforts, when the government lays down broad standards which companies must then satisfy" (p.21). Put simply, enforced self-regulation implies that the state gives up its primary responsibility to identify and prevent food and public health risks. Instead, the government assumes a responsibility to set and impose health and food quality standards, with which businesses are to comply (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992). In the context of food poisoning, food manufacturers must (a) develop and implement the HACCP principles, systems and standards, and (b) train and supervise food handlers on HACCP procedures and food hygiene (POST 2009). However, businesses are also free to develop and implement the systems of risk assessment and management, as long as these systems help businesses to achieve the desired level of risk prevention use the basic required methods of risk prevention, including cleaning and chilling (POST 2009). Businesses must develop procedures and processes to deal with the risks and cases of non-compliance (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992). Enforced self-regulation gives businesses sufficient freedom to develop and implement the systems of risk assessment and management, as long as these systems comply with the "broad standards of public health and help businesses to achieve the desired level of risk prevention and control" (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992). Once these systems are in place, businesses will have to develop "procedures and processes to deal with the risks and cases of non-compliance" (Ayres & Braithwaite 1992). Enforced self-regulation philosophy of food legislation imposes a narrow set of meta-regulatory roles on regulators - all they need to do is (a) to monitor and re-direct business efforts to comply with food and public health standards and (b) to have and use an efficient system of sanctions for non-compliance (Sockett 1995). The idea of enforced self-regulation dates back to the middle of the 1970s, when Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 made businesses responsible for regulating and managing their occupational risks (Dawson, Willman & Bamford 1984). Occupational legislation became a foundation for the development of efficient food regulations and laws.

Food legislation: an effective/ ineffective protection of public health

The philosophy of enforced self-regulation in food legislation in the UK has a strong potential to improve the quality of public health protection in the country. The political and regulatory advantages of enforced self-regulation are difficult to ignore. First and foremost, enforced self-regulation is an effective antipode to conventional food legislation, which overloads regulators with unnecessary responsibilities, but does not guarantee businesses' compliance with the broad standards of public health protection (Hawkins 1984). Second, "enforced self-regulation is a unique combination of state and self-regulation, which is neither left to the companies' willingness to comply nor is entirely dependent on state legislators and systems of regulatory control" (Coker & Martin 2006). To a large extent, enforced self-regulation is a form of empowerment, which gives businesses sufficient freedom to build their safety mechanisms in ways that meet the demands for public health and food safety in the UK.

Enforced self-control enhances public health protection, as long as it guarantees sufficient flexibility in how companies devise and implement their systems of monitoring and control (Yapp & Fairman 2005). This is how businesses can ensure that these systems meet the broad standards of public health protection and, simultaneously, fit in their business conditions and circumstances. In conditions of enforced self-regulation, organizations try to comply with the broad standards of public health and food protection, and even propose innovations to reduce and mitigate public health risks in the food industry. Unfortunately, enforced self-regulation is not without limitations, and the United Kingdom must be aware of the changes and profound implications of business freedom and flexibility in public health. This form of food legislation in the UK is associated with the major risks of non-compliance and failure to achieve the desired level of risk awareness and prevention in the food industry.

Philosophy of enforced self-regulation is not without controversy. Enforced self-regulation, as the basic mechanism of food legislation in the UK, directly depends on the regulatory and risk assessment capacities of businesses (Bardach & Kagan 2002). Different businesses exhibit different self-regulation capabilities and may lack knowledge, skills, and financial resources needed to effectively self-regulate. This is particularly true of small businesses, which may lack consistency in the use of risk prevention procedures and fail to develop effective regulatory compliance mechanisms. Therefore, the success of enforced self-regulation in food legislation and public health protection is in (a) whether businesses possess and utilize sufficient self-regulation capacity; and (b) whether the state is prepared to assist those, who fail to meet increased demands for public health in operation and business processes.

Failure to maintain a reasonable balance between self-regulation and sanctioning is another problem of the current food legislation in the UK. The country cannot protect its citizens from the major public health risks, unless a reasonable balance between self-regulation in businesses and sanctioning for non-compliance be achieved and sustained. Obviously, too much regulatory oversight is likely to reduce businesses' motivation to self-regulate and prevent various public health risks (Bardach & Kagan 2002). Simultaneously, too little oversight will lead to poor compliance and lower quality of risk management procedures in the food industry (Bardach & Kagan 2002). Thus, the current food legislation in the UK can protect public health only to the extent, which maintains a reasonable balance of freedom and regulatory oversight in short and long-term perspectives.

The line between self-regulatory flexibility and non-compliance in the British food legislation remains increasingly blurred. The reasons why businesses fail to comply with food legislation are numerous and varied, but only few of them are the result of rational decisions and calculations (Coker & Martin 2006). Previously, the Food Standards Agency had to control the flexibility of food hygiene regulation, collaborate with the food industry, and support small businesses in the development and implementation of the HACCP systems (POST 2009). However, the agency proved to be inefficient and was abolished in the middle of 2010 (Ramesh 2010). Thus, it is not clear how self-regulation in food hygiene will further help to prevent food poisoning risks in the UK. More often than not, the costs of compliance predetermine the quality of regulatory decisions in business (Coker & Martin 2006). The moral and ethical culture in organizations add complexity to the situation: cultural and ethical considerations produce heavy impacts on how businesses in the food industry behave (Bardach & Kagan 2002). Regulations and broad standards of public health protection in the food industry may be too vague or complex for businesses to follow. Small businesses are particularly susceptible to this type of risks - Fairman and Yapp (2005) write that most small businesses in the UK food industry do only what they are told to do during inspections or advisory visits. Finally, traditional command and control mechanisms of food regulation and public health protection in the UK are as relevant as ever, turning into a serious barrier to improving the quality of public health and food legislation compliance in business (Fairman & Yapp 2005).

Despite its limitations, the current state of food legislation in the UK is an efficient measure of public health protection, although it warrants the need for developing efficient mechanisms of enforcement and compliance for small and large organizations. The philosophy of enforced self-regulation motivates businesses to comply with the regulatory requirements in food legislation and encourages innovations in the development of risk assessment and prevention systems in corporate environments. This approach to food legislation emphasizes the importance of process control, when all stages of food preparation, manufacturing, and delivery, are being constantly monitored and controlled. Ultimately, the state itself is interested in expanding the role of businesses in public health protection in the UK. The recent abolition of Food Standards Agency supports this belief: the agency was abolished following an accusation that "the government had caved in to big business" (Ramesh 2010).

The future success of food legislation in public health protection will depend on several factors. All businesses, especially small ones, must have a clear idea of what food legislation is, how it works, and what they are required to do, to meet the demands for better public health. In this sense, regulators must guarantee greater clarity and provide detailed explanation of the required standards of public health performance and prevention of risks. Finally, better methods of enforcement and compliance must ensure that all businesses, irrespective of the motives which govern them, comply with the broad standards of quality imposed by regulators. These are the best ways to ensure that the philosophy of enforced self-regulation in food legislation favors better protection of public health in the UK.

Conclusion

The past decades were marked with the rapid evolution and transformation of food legislation in the UK and the rest of Europe. Conventional elements of risk mitigation and control were abandoned, giving place to the implementation of numerous self-regulatory mechanisms of food quality evaluation and control. The past years were marked with a rapid shift in food legislation in the UK. The development and implementation of food regulations in Britain were influenced by broad changes in the attitudes toward food manufacturing and consumption. Enforced self-regulation in food legislation holds a promise to enhance public health protection in the UK. The philosophy of enforced self-regulation motivates businesses to comply with the regulatory requirements in food legislation and encourages innovations in the development of risk assessment and prevention systems in corporate environments. However, better methods of enforcement need to be developed, to ensure uniform compliance of businesses with the broader standards of public health protection in the food industry.

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