New Brexit border rules could cut the shelf life of fresh food from mainland Europe by a fifth and leave some deliveries from the EU unsaleable, major food bodies have warned.
The SPS Certification Working group, which represents 30 trade bodies covering £100bn of the UK’s food supply, has said new rules requiring importers to notify authorities a day before they arrive in the UK was “unfeasible” and could mean that some European businesses decide to stop supplying the UK.
Currently, suppliers in the EU do not need to notify the UK government before delivering meat and dairy products, meaning deliveries can arrive in the UK within hours of being dispatched from their farms or processing plants in the EU.
However, under new border rules coming into effect in April, the government requires importers to notify the UK authorities at least a day before they arrive at a border post, which businesses fear will add huge delays to deliveries of perishable goods.
Experts said there were particular fears over the potential impact on products with particularly short shelf lives, such as fresh unfrozen meat and some products that contain egg.
In a letter to Steve Barclay, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, the group wrote: “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 argued that these delays could make supplying the UK commercially unviable for some EU companies.
The SPS Working Group, formed three years ago, includes a number of food businesses, from farmers to food producers and hauliers. Members include the Fresh Produce Consortium, Chilled Food Association, Dairy UK and the Road Haulage Association.
It was set up in advance of the implementation of the border target operating model, which will require European importers to provide health certificates for “medium- and high-risk” animal and plant products from 31 January. This will be followed by physical checks at the border at the end of April.
Karin Goodburn, chair of the SPS and director general of the Chilled Food Association, said the 24-hour notification rules would lead to 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 said.
“You need to have at least 75% of shelf life when you receive it, either as a manufacturer or retailer, to be able to handle it, get it on the shelves and sell it. If you take off the 20%, it destroys the ability to use much of that raw food material.”
Peter Hardwick, policy adviser at the British Meat Processors Association, called the 24-hour pre-notification rule “totally impractical”. He said: “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 letter to Barclay included 16 different concerns the food industry has regarding the government’s border plans. These included concerns about the fact that the government had yet to publish the details of the opening hours of its border posts, despite the start date being just 13 weeks away.
It also warned that added red tape and certification requirements limited the ability of suppliers to send different products in the same consignments, which could “curtail imports, increase food inflation and reduce UK food security”.
The Guardian understands that the government will initially take a pragmatic approach to the 24-hour pre-notification, and Defra officials have indicated that if health certificates for products have been deemed acceptable, late goods will not be held.
A government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to delivering the most advanced border in the world. The border target operating model is key 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 to work closely with businesses across the UK as the controls are implemented.”