UK again delays full checks on EU food imports

Checks on some food imports from Europe have once again been delayed by the UK government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit opportunities, said the approach will be reviewed before coming into force by the end of 2023.

Full checks on animal and plant products from the EU were due to start in July 2022, following previous postponements from when the UK left the European Union.

Controls introduced in January 2021 on high-risk imports of animal and plant products will continue. Comprehensive controls would include export health certificates and physical border checks. Some initial measures on imports into the UK, known as pre-notification, are in place. The EU introduced comprehensive border controls in January 2021.

New date in 2023
The National Farmers Union said the decision posed a risk to biosecurity, animal health and food safety, while the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said the decision could have public health consequences. However, it was well received by bands such as the Cold Chain Federation.

Rees-Mogg said the decision will allow UK businesses to focus on recovering from the pandemic and global supply chain issues, as well as ensuring new costs are not passed on to consumers.

“It is essential that we have the right import control regime in place, so we will now work with industry to review these remaining controls so that they best meet the interests of the UK. We want the process of importing goods from the EU to be safe, secure and efficient and we want to leverage innovative new technologies to streamline processes and reduce friction,” he said.

The new model will be based on risk assessment and will use data and technology. It will be published in the autumn and the new control regime will apply from the end of 2023.

From July, sanitary and phytosanitary checks currently at destination were to be moved to a border checkpoint and there would have been restrictions on chilled meat from the EU, but these actions will no longer be introduced.

The British Meat Processors Association said at least the ruling brought clarity, but it was a double-edged sword for businesses.

“On the one hand, it makes importing a quarter of the food stocked on UK supermarket shelves cheaper and easier to get into the country. In some cases, food we import from the EU, such as sausages, pork pies and other chilled meat preparations, cannot be shipped the other way by UK exporters. There is also a risk of serious food fraud the more it is known that the goods will simply be passed through UK ports,” according to the association.

Negative reaction
National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said it was “astonishing” the government was taking such an approach to controlling agri-food imports from the EU.

“These checks are absolutely crucial to the biosecurity, animal health and food safety of the country and without them we really put ourselves at risk. For the introduction of these controls to have been delayed three times was bad enough, but to have them now essentially abandoned in favor of an unknown system is unacceptable,” Batters said.

Gary McFarlane, director of Northern Ireland at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said the decision to drop controls and inspections on imports represents a clear dereliction of duty by the government.

“Unfortunately, this appears to be a further erosion of the primary health protection mechanisms on which this country relies and increases the danger of food fraud and crime. Food of unknown origin and of questionable quality may well end up in our supermarket shelves and in our homes,” he said.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said the announcement was a major policy change.

“Many UK port operators have built border checkpoints in preparation for post-Brexit checks and all had to be ready. Most ports will have to recover some of their construction and operating costs for their infrastructure and this is traditionally done by levying a fee on importers. Ports have taken on staff to operate the facilities, but that must now stop,” Ballantyne said.

Delay support
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, said it would have made a bad situation worse.

“What’s most positive is the decision to not just delay again, but to follow through on the commitment to rethink how these controls work. What we’ve learned is that no time preparation cannot solve the fundamental harm that complex, load-by-load paperwork processes have on the ability and will to trade, so we can now take the time available to build new and better ways to implement these rules. and deliver on the promise of building the world’s most innovative frontier for our food traders,” said.

Katie Doherty, CEO of the International Meat Trade Association, said while some will be frustrated by a further delay, for many it is welcome due to current supply chain pressures.

“There has been a little more notice than the usual last minute announcements which will be appreciated by the industry. It will be essential that the government works with both industry and port health authorities on their operating model target,” she said.

Martin McTague of the Federation of Small Businesses said: “The imposition of comprehensive import controls this summer would have meant another burden for small businesses who are already struggling with new trade rules and operating costs in spiral. This decision will give them more time to prepare for future changes and reassess supply chains. »

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