Let’s be clear from the start. There is no such thing as artisan food law. This may come as a surprise, though probably not, the reality is that law relevant to the big industrial food processors is the very same as that which applies to the artisan and small-scale food producer. It is simply the context which changes and the way in which food law is viewed and applied.
Food Law in the UK
Food law is organised according to ‘horizontal law’, which applies to all foods, and ‘vertical law’, which applies to a food or group of foods. Horizontal law takes a general overview of a situation and facilitates implementation, particularly for food businesses working in diverse sectors. The vertical approach makes it possible to adjust legislation to the needs of a specific sector and may cover all aspects of a sector.
It helps to understand at the outset the aims and objectives of food law, which have remained fairly consistent over time, and how we came to have the system that today regulates the production, distribution and sale of food.
Throughout the twentieth century numerous consolidating and other statutes often dealing with specific foods were passed. The development of science meant it was to play a bigger role in the food industry. The focus began to shift from adulterants to the use of additives, preservers and improvers.
The food scares of the 1990s, none more so than the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in beef, highlighted the European Commission’s inability to respond quickly and effectively in the emerging crisis. BSE is “commonly regarded as the ‘trigger’ for the reform of [the then] existing legislation and the establishing of new regulatory institutions across Europe.” Whilst the incidence of BSE was considerably higher in the UK in the years since 1987, cases throughout Europe resulted in an EU wide response.
Brexit deserves a short chapter all to its own. Whatever the position taken on the 2016 referendum question and perhaps maintained to this day, there is no getting away from the fact that Brexit represents a seismic shift into the unknown. The summary provided here looks at the process and potential impact that changes in the law due to Brexit will have on the law most relevant to artisan and small-scale food producers.
Beginning in 1266 this chronology traces significant events which have helped to shape food law over the centuries and key milestones which have been reached. While there has undoubtedly been much change, particularly since the early 19th century, there is a surprising amount of consistency in the approach taken by the law in seeking to protect both consumers and honest traders.