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Food & Ag Policy Briefing: New UK PM sets out Brexit stall, Campylobacter standards ‘coming soon’

Also, FDA sets up new task force to find answers on the Cyclospora parasite

Boris Johnson became the new prime minister of the United Kingdom last week and immediately dismantled Theresa May’s former cabinet of ministers, surrounding himself with key allies from the Brexit referendum’s ‘Vote Leave’ team and setting the country on course for a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU.

Johnson’s commitment to leave the EU on October 31, 2019, as prescribed by the previous extension to the Article 50 process, and the EU’s position that the current Withdrawal Agreement is the “best and only agreement possible” make a ‘no deal’ exit significantly more likely – contrary to the prime minister’s pre-election claim that the odds on such a scenario are “a million-to-one against”.

As part of his new cabinet, leading Brexiteer Theresa Villiers will replace Michael Gove as environment secretary and head of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Villiers has previously advocated for the UK preparing to leave the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms, which will immediately be a concern for farmers who insist such a result will be a disaster for many industries, while also being outspoken on issues such as animal welfare and the environment (read more here – free also for non-subs).

Gove has been put in charge of ‘no deal’ planning for the whole government in his new role as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and will be missed by many in the farming community. He was praised by a number of commentators upon leaving Defra for how he had taken on board the concerns of the agriculture sector and quickly grasped the complexity of Brexit and potential impact on the industry.

At the same time, many saw George Eustice’s return to the role of farming minister in the new administration, replacing Robert Goodwill, as a positive sign considering his extensive experience and knowledge of farming and food production.

Meanwhile, in his maiden speech as prime minister in Parliament, Johnson also put down a marker to “liberate” the UK’s biotechnology industry and free it from “anti-genetic modification rules”.

This is significant as it could see the UK diverging from EU standards on this issue and making frictionless trade between the two markets more difficult. Conversely, it could potentially make it easier to reach a deal on a trade agreement with the United States.

New Campylobacter standards

Meanwhile, more than 3,700 food safety professionals congregated in Louisville, Kentucky last week to share and discuss the latest scientific and regulatory advances in their field, including emerging hazards and reducing longtime pathogens.

Among the most significant announcements were that the USDA plans to release new Campylobacter standards “very, very soon” and roll out the swine modernization rule before the end of the summer, according to Mindy Brashears, deputy under secretary for food safety at the agency.

Despite some misunderstandings about the latter rule, Brashears said the 100% carcass inspections continue under the hog rule, and plants will have to conduct additional testing at pre-evisceration and post-chilling points.

There are fewer inspectors on the line and plants can sort off and present products for inspections as part of the new system, but the shift in focus for inspectors will correlate to a reduction of 2,533 illnesses a year from pork products, she told IAFP.

Cyclospora mystery

Meanwhile, the FDA said it has set up a new task force to get some answers on the Cyclospora parasite before it becomes a bigger problem for US consumers and growers. The number of reported cases has exploded in recent years.

The resurgence of the Cyclospora has baffled many food safety experts. “There’s so much we don’t know about this organism that it’s very concerning to me,” said Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, who called on universities and industry to collect more research on the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis.

Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, said that without more science, there’s nothing to tell companies how to prevent it, while Walter Ram, vice president of food safety at Giumarra Companies, warned of the need to get ahead of the parasite before it becomes a problem. Experts thought it lived in tropical environments but “we’re finding out differently.”

“There are so many more questions than there are answers at this point,” said Samir Assar, director of FDA’s Division of Produce Safety. “It’s become a bigger problem and deserves a lot of attention.”

In case you missed it…

Week ahead & updates

There will be no EU agri-food policy diary article for the next few weeks due to the lack of events taking place over the summer period.

Don’t forget, if you still need to get up to speed with the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, and its potential impact on food and farming, subscribers can download our latest special report – more details here.

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