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Food Businesses Brace For A New Wave Of Post-Brexit Paperwork Affecting Pizza, Pies And Sandwiches

4 min read

The UK food industry is warning that a deluge of new post-Brexit red tape which comes into effect today will increase export paperwork by a third and make some sales to Europe unviable.

The European Union is today introducing a wave of new requirements for composite (multi-ingredient) food products entering the bloc from third countries like the UK.

This is on top of the myriad border checks that began on January 1 when the UK left the EU's Single Market and Customs Union and starting trading with the bloc on looser terms.

As of this morning, all chilled and frozen composite foods sent to EU customers must be accompanied by Export Health Certificates signed off by vets. Previously, only composite products that were 50% or more dairy content required vet-certified Export Heath Certificates. 

The new regulations are set to affect a host of British exports which contain dairy like sandwiches, wraps, pizzas, leafy salads containing cheese, pies, flans, quiches, and cheesecake.

Shelf stable composite products like chocolate, biscuits, pasta, cereals, curry sources and soup are also set to attract extra paperwork.

While they do not require Export Health Certifications, they must now be exported with pages of attestation documents, detailing information like the source of the ingredients, as a result of the new rules.

Both the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and Chilled Food Association (CFA) estimate the number of food products that require Export Health Certificates will increase by around a third.

"This new non-tariff barrier will add significant additional costs and bureaucracy," said the FDF's Dominic Goudie.

He warned that the added bureaucracy risked making British businesses less attractive to EU customers.

"Detailed information bout the composition of products may need to be provided to customers and this creates concerns about competition implications," he told PoliticsHome.

Karin Goodburn, the CFA's director general, said the new red tape would result in more delays to UK-EU trade and force many businesses to hire more staff to handle the new paperwork.

"The question is whether the cost and time aspects are sustainable given profit margins and just in time short shelf life nature of the foods," she told PoliticsHome.

The British Retail Consortium's Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson said some food manufacturers were expecting their paperwork to increase by as much as fourfold from today.

"We are going from a place where, for example, one business I spoke to needed Export Health Certificates for 15 to 20 products, to now needing them for around 100," she explained.

"If you scale that up across the whole sector, you're talking about thousands of products needing Export Health Certificates which didn't previously".The new regulations also add more paperwork to food products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The latter continues to follow EU rules under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed by UK and EU negotiators last year. 

There is concern in the industry that the UK does not have enough vets to sign off the increased number of Export Health Certificates.

James Russell, president of the British Veterinary Association, on Tuesday told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee he was "concerned about veterinary capacity in the United Kingdom".

He said the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had recently been asked by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to approve a reduction in English language qualifications for vets so more could be brought in to fill holes in the workforce "being left vacant" by those dealing with post-Brexit Export Health Certificates.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We have worked to clarify these new rules and update Export Health Certificates (EHCs) to reflect the changes made by the EU.

"To support businesses and to give them as much time as possible to adjust, the vast majority of these new EHC documents will be phased in over the coming months".

UK offiicials will not begin carrying out checks on goods entering from the EU until October after the government in March decided to postpone border controls by six months.

Michael Gove, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, said many businesses needed more time to prepare for the new paperwork amid warnings of disruption to the country's food supplies. 

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