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Brexit Border Regulations Set to Slash Fresh EU Food Shelf Life by 20%, Industry Warns

New Brexit border regulations could reduce the shelf life of fresh food from mainland Europe by up to 20% and render some EU deliveries unsellable, according to warnings from major food organisations.



The SPS Certification Working Group, representing 30 trade bodies responsible for £100bn of the UK's food supply, has criticised the new requirement for importers to notify authorities 24 hours before arrival in the UK as "unworkable". This could lead some European companies to cease supplying the UK altogether.


At present, EU suppliers do not need to inform the UK government before delivering meat and dairy products, allowing for deliveries to arrive in the UK within hours of dispatch from farms or processing plants in the EU. However, with the new border rules set to take effect in April, the government will require at least a day's notice before goods arrive at a border post, a change that businesses fear will significantly delay perishable goods deliveries.


There are particular concerns about the impact on products with very short shelf lives, such as fresh, unfrozen meat and some egg-containing products. In a letter to Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the group stated that the requirement for one working day's pre-notification for perishable, short-shelf-life fresh foods and ingredients from the EU is impractical.


They warned that a one-day delay could lead to a 20% loss in shelf life, making the food unsellable and potentially making it commercially unviable for some EU companies to supply the UK.


The SPS Working Group, established three years ago and comprising various food businesses including farmers, food producers, and hauliers, is preparing for the implementation of the border target operating model. This model will require European importers to provide health certificates for medium- and high-risk animal and plant products from 31 January, followed by physical checks at the border by the end of April.


Karin Goodburn, chair of the SPS and director general of the Chilled Food Association, highlighted that the 24-hour notification rule would lead to food waste. Peter Hardwick, policy adviser at the British Meat Processors Association, described the rule as "totally impractical", noting that it would result in refrigerated lorries being parked unnecessarily, affecting the shelf life of the products.


The letter to Barclay outlined 16 different concerns the food industry has regarding the government's border plans, including the lack of published details on the opening hours of border posts and the added bureaucracy and certification requirements that could limit the ability of suppliers to send different products in the same consignments. This could lead to reduced imports, increased food inflation, and decreased UK food security.


The government has indicated a pragmatic initial approach to the 24-hour pre-notification, with Defra officials suggesting that goods will not be held up if health certificates are deemed acceptable, even if they are late.


A government spokesperson stated the commitment to delivering a world-leading border, emphasising that the new controls and requirements are designed to be clear and not burdensome, with low-risk products facing no additional certification or checks and medium-risk products undergoing reduced checks to minimise the risk of delays.


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