It almost goes without saying that, for food manufacturers, different rules in different parts of the UK could cause immense problems.
Suggestions that the Scottish Government is considering whether to require food manufacturers to add folic acid to flour, while this is not a current proposal being considered by the UK Government, have highlighted that food safety and regulation is a devolved matter and may therefore be regulated differently in Scotland from the rest of the UK.
At a UK level, while for more than 15 years advisers have been recommending to the Government that folic acid be added to flour, the Department of Health's position is that the matter is still under consideration.
The Scottish Government has now indicated that if steps are not taken at the UK level, it may require folic acid to be added to flour in Scotland, suggesting that while foliate levels are seen as a concern across the entire UK, this is particularly the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
While the push for 'local produce' with the aim to source and consume products locally - not only emphasising the local origin of the food but reducing carbon footprint - works well for fresh produce, in the case of manufactured foods, which must include all flour-based products which by their nature must be baked, any Scottish business will aim to grow its markets by exporting initially to other parts of the UK before making international sales.
What would different legislation mean in practice for food manufacturers?
It has been suggested that if Scotland does introduce legislation before the rest of the UK, bread manufacturers would include folic acid in all their UK products rather than have to make products specifically for the Scottish market. For producers in Scotland, this would certainly be the sensible approach and, probably, a legal requirement – it would be too obvious a loophole to avoid regulation if it only applied to flour produced in Scotland and not the end product, allowing Scottish manufacturers to avoid regulation simply by sourcing their flour elsewhere!
Whether this could place Scottish manufacturers at a pricing disadvantage - if prices for flour containing folic acid increase compared to flour without - is another factor, but if there were a wide range of costs which have to be taken into account, any effect on overall price is assumed to be minimal.
Whatever political arguments are put forward, the fact remains that, in practice, Scotland and England are one market, even more so for Scottish producers who require access to the whole UK market to grow their business.
Accordingly, if theUK Government were to take an initiative which was not followed by the Scottish Government, Scottish producers would have no option but to follow the higher standard required by the rest of theUK. For the sake of the Scottish food industry, it is hoped that while the governing bodies and those responsible for implementation, the Food Standards Agency for the rest of theUK and Food Standards Scotland here, may be separate, a common approach is taken to regulation and implementation.
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Scott Kerr is head of Harper Macleod's Food & Drink Group