EU (Parliament Politics Maganize) – Significant food associations have warned that new Brexit border restrictions might render some supplies from the EU unsaleable and lower the shelf life of fresh food from mainland Europe by a fifth. The SPS Certification Working Group (which represents 30 trade bodies covering £100bn of the UK’s food supply) has stated new rules requiring importers to inform authorities a day before they reach the UK was “unfeasible” and could indicate that some European businesses decide to stop providing the UK.
Currently, suppliers in the EU do not need to report to the UK government before providing meat and dairy products, indicating deliveries can arrive in the UK within hours of being shipped from their farms or processing plants in the EU.
However, under new border regulations in April, the government needs importers to notify the UK authorities at least a day before they reach a border post, which businesses fear will considerably delay deliveries of perishable goods.
Experts stated there were particular fears over the likely impact on products with concise shelf life, such as fresh, unfrozen meat and some products containing eggs. In a letter to Steve Barclay, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, the group authored: “Great Britain’s requirement for one working day pre-notification is unfeasible for just-in-time supply to GB of perishable short-shelf-life fresh foods/ingredients arriving from the EU.
“A one-day delay to exportation can mean a 20% loss of shelf life, ultimately rendering the food unsaleable.” The group also claimed that these delays could make supplying the UK commercially unviable for some EU companies.
The SPS Working Group was initiated three years ago and includes several food businesses, from farmers to producers and hauliers. Members comprise the Fresh Produce Consortium, Chilled Food Association, Dairy UK and the Road Haulage Association.
It was set up before enforcing the border target operating model, requiring European importers to provide health certificates for “medium- and high-risk” animal and plant products from 31 January. Physical checks at the border will be pursued at the end of April.
Karin Goodburn, chair of the SPS and DG of the Chilled Food Association, stated the 24-hour notification rules would usher food going to waste. “You need a certain amount of time to move something fresh coming into the UK, to get it to shops and on the shelves,” she stated.
“You need at least 75% of shelf life when you receive it, either as a manufacturer or retailer, to handle it, get it on the shelves and sell it. Taking off the 20% destroys the ability to use much of that raw food material.”
Peter Hardwick, policy advisor at the British Meat Processors Association, called the 24-hour pre-notification regulation “totally impractical”. He expressed: “Currently, if a vehicle is loaded in Ireland, it would expect to arrive at a border within six hours, eight at the most. The 24-hour rule would mean refrigerated lorries sitting in a park somewhere as the shelf life is affected.”
The note to Barclay included 16 food industry concerns regarding the government’s border plans. These included worries about the fact that the government had yet to publicise the details of the opening hours of its border posts despite the start date being just 13 weeks away.
It also cautioned that added red tape and certification conditions limited the ability of suppliers to ship different products in the same consignments, which could “curtail imports, increase food inflation and reduce UK food security”.
A government spokesperson expressed: “We remain committed to delivering the most advanced border in the world. The border target operating model is critical to delivering this, protecting the UK’s biosecurity from potentially harmful pests and diseases, and maintaining trust in our exports.”
“We worked extensively with traders to ensure the new controls and requirements are clear and not burdensome – which is why low-risk products face no additional certification or checks, while medium-risk products will undergo reduced checks, minimising the risk of delays. We will continue working closely with UK businesses as the controls are implemented.”