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UK Importers Brace for New Challenges as Border Control Posts Take Over Plant Inspections

British importers have raised concerns that they might need to arrange additional transport if inspectors are unable to repack their lorries, which are meticulously loaded at nurseries.

This issue arises as Border Control Posts (BCPs) are set to take over from destinations as the primary inspection points for plant imports starting this April.


European Union growers, expressing their frustration to HortWeek, have been seeking clarity from the UK Government on this matter. In response, HortWeek approached the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for a statement.


Defra clarified that not all plants would be unloaded for inspection. Instead, a representative sample will be selected for examination. The size of this sample is standardised across different commodities and does not depend on the size of the shipment.


The responsibility for unloading and reloading goods at the BCPs lies not with APHA/Defra but with the trained staff of the Port Operators. These goods are then presented to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) staff for inspection.


APHA’s plant health import inspection process adheres to the ISO 17020 Inspection Standard, which undergoes regular external audits by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS).

According to Defra's Biosecurity and Trade Operations Manual (BTOM), their staff are trained to handle goods carefully and in a biosecure manner.


If destructive sampling is necessary, or if pests or diseases are detected during inspections, the importer is responsible for the cost of the lost consignment and its disposal. The UK Government's longstanding policy is not to offer compensation in such cases, prioritising resources for pest and disease detection, risk management, and research.


Based on experience with non-EU imports, which have undergone systematic checks for many years, incidents of damaged consignments are infrequent.


Defra also stated that the handling and removal of consignments from transport vehicles at BCPs are conducted by operators.


Plant health inspectors do not remove goods and only conduct checks once a consignment is in the inspection area. In cases where damage is claimed under different circumstances, there is a complaints procedure in place, assessed independently on a case-by-case basis.


Defra emphasises the importance of addressing these complaints promptly and thoroughly. Further details on this process will be available on the Gov.uk website and the Plant Health Portal.


These developments follow complaints from Dutch trade organisations Anthos and VGB about the BCPs' capacity to handle inspection volumes. VGB advocates for specific, targeted, risk-based inspections of woody plants, as opposed to the 100% inspections planned post-30 April.


They also argue that cut flowers, which will face a 5% inspection rate, should be considered low risk, as was the case before Brexit. During a visit to Harwich's new BCP before Christmas, VGB expressed doubts about the facility's ability to manage the anticipated inspection volumes.

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