EU food producers ‘not ready’ for UK import checks

Ministers have been warned that European food producers are “not ready” for UK import checks, which are due to begin later this year, and that their introduction will drive food price inflation.

The controls have already been postponed four times over the past 18 months, because of fears about the potential effect on prices.

Farming groups reacted angrily to the delays at the time, pointing out they left domestic producers, who have faced full checks on exports to the EU since 1 January 2021, at a competitive disadvantage.

See also: Post-Brexit border checks will drive up food prices

Multiple sources close to government suggested to Farmers Weekly that it was unlikely the checks would be postponed again, despite concern about food prices in Number 10.

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents the temperature-controlled supply chain in the UK, warned there would be disruption as a result.

“It’s not about us being ready, it’s about European food producers being ready,” he said.

“They don’t have any awareness of this stuff. We are telling them now, but they’re only going to listen when it actually happens and they suddenly realise Brexit hasn’t happened at all for them yet.

“It’s going to be a pretty rude awakening.”

From 31 October, any EU business exporting meat or dairy to the UK will need to have an Export Health Certificate (EHC), which needs certifying by an on-site vet.

Physical checks at the border will follow in January 2024.

Mr Brennan said Ireland, the biggest EU meat and dairy exporter to the UK, is the most prepared member state.

“Once you go beyond that, into France, Germany, Poland or Holland, these countries aren’t paying much attention,” he added.  

“It’s going to be difficult getting a German vet in Saxony at 3pm on a Friday to sign off product to get it on the ferry so it can be in the UK the next morning.

“If just 10% of what you sell goes to the UK, chances are with the cost dynamics, your rational business decision in that scenario is to stop serving the UK.

“The end result is less choice, less flexibility and higher prices than they would otherwise be at the end of this year.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We are confident the Target Operating Model strikes the right balance between protecting the UK’s biosecurity and supporting businesses moving goods into Great Britain.

“We have been listening closely to the feedback we have received from stakeholders and will carefully consider what more we can do to support business readiness for the introduction of new controls. We will also work with our closest trading partners to support their readiness.”