The Welsh Assembly government should not make it compulsory for Welsh businesses to display their Food Hygiene Rating System scores because the system is flawed and too few members of the public understand it.
That's the view of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) after the Welsh Assembly announced proposals this week to force businesses to comply with the scheme or face hefty fines.
The changes are part of the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Bill, which the Welsh Assembly government said aimed to give consumers more information and raise food hygiene practices among businesses such as restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets.
Fixed penalty notices of £200 for offences such as non-display of a rating have been proposed, as well as powers to prosecute, with a maximum fine of £1,000.
Following consultation on the proposals earlier this year, there is also a new duty on businesses to verbally inform customers of their food hygiene rating if requested and an associated offence if they refuse to do so.
The Bill now also includes provisions to include businesses that supply food to other businesses. In Wales, more than 17,500 of the 30,000 businesses that would be covered are already part of the voluntary scheme operated by local authorities and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Health minister Lesley Griffiths said: "The Bill will introduce a simple but effective public health measure that will empower consumers and help to improve food hygiene standards.
"Food hygiene is essential for the protection of public health. The rating scheme will help drive up standards and benefit both consumers and businesses. It will enable consumers to make a more informed choice about where they eat or shop for food, while good food hygiene means a higher rating, which is good for business."
But Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the BHA, said: "We are not at all happy about this. It would be better to concentrate on closing the places that were bad, rather than making everyone display a rating.
"The Food Hygiene Rating System is a better scheme than the old Scores on the Doors system, but there are still problems with it. For example, if you look at the percentages, only 9% of Northern Irish businesses are rated with scores of zero, one or two. In England it is 15%, but in Wales it is 30%. Since they are all operating the same scheme, that suggests a problem with the system.
"The second problem is that people don't understand it. The Welsh Assembly did an opinion poll on whether or not people wanted to be told of a business's food hygiene rating score and they got a 94% ‘yes' vote. But that was only among people who actually understood it.
"If the system is flawed and the flaws haven't been taken out, then it is wrong to make the display compulsory."
If the Bill becomes law, the earliest a mandatory scheme could come into force is late 2013, to allow businesses to prepare.
It will be the first compulsory scheme in the UK, but other countries and cities already operate similar mandatory schemes, including Denmark, New York, Auckland and Los Angeles.
By Neil Gerrard
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