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Pigs Heads Are Rotting In Rotterdam As Brexit Delays Hit The British Meat Industry

5 min read

Tonnes of rotting meat is stuck at European ports as a result of "eye-watering" post-Brexit paperwork, UK meat industry leaders have told PoliticsHome – including a lorry carrying British pork that has been stuck in Holland since 1 January.

Meat exporters to the EU are encountering similar issues to those experienced by fish traders since the end of the Brexit transition period. They have seen lengthy new customs and health checks, customers cancelling orders, and meat having to be destroyed before reaching the continent as it's no longer fresh.

Zoe Davies from the National Pig Association said that pig heads, which are exported from the UK to European buyers to make products like sausages and pâté, have been stuck at Rotterdam port for weeks due to Dutch authorities demanding that that they be tested for disease.

“It's eye-watering what our members have to do," she told PoliticsHome. “And it is going to be an ongoing issue that gets worse as more and more people decide to export to the EU."

David Lindars from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said that over 120 lorries carrying British meat were sat at Rotterdam port in the south of Holland, including one transporting pork which had been stuck there for nearly three weeks since 1 January.

“This is food that is sold and then cannot reach its destination due to clerical bureaucracy and the misunderstanding of the rules we [the UK] and they [the EU] are operating to," he said.

“All paperwork is checked for 100% of products entering the EU and the number of issues raised at the border control posts determine whether a truck is held for hours, days, or even weeks. There are huge issues with a system that is fundamentally not designed for a short shelf-life food.”

Most of the delayed meat will have to be destroyed and dumped on landfill, which is set to cost traders hundreds of thousands of pounds, Lindars warned.

He added that there was no reason why the meat industry shouldn't receive financial help from government, in a sign that Boris Johnson will in the coming days face pressure to compensate even more businesses adversely affected by leaving the EU's single market and customs union.

“The Scottish fishermen are going to get compensated as an industry. What have we been offered so far? Nothing. Exporters will have to pay for disposal cost, so there’ll be another bill coming,” Lindars said.

"There are huge issues with a system that is fundamentally not designed for a short shelf-life food" – David Lindars, British Meat Processors Association

Prime Minister Johnson said on Monday that fishing traders whose exports to the EU have been disrupted by no fault of their own would receive £23million in government compensation, though the government is yet to disclose details what this will entail, as well as how and when it will be made available.

Fishers including countless traders in Scotland have been plunged into crisis as Brexit delays have led to customers on the continent cancelling orders. Some Scottish fishing boats have resorted to landing in Denmark and having their catch processed there in order to circumvent chaos in the UK.

It has also emerged that lorries containing animal fat, to go into renewable fuels, were also held up in Rotterdam. The Foodchain & Biomass Renewables Association said that consignments were being held in Holland due to administrative problems with export health certificates. This has since been resolved with Dutch officials.

Lamb and sheep meat exporters are also feeling the "significant" burden of new red tape at the border as lorries full of carcasses have been denied entry into EU markets, an industry leader told PoliticsHome.

Wranglings over paperwork and different interpretations of how forms should be filled in at Calais have left meat processers and haulage firms out of pocket.

Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said the cost of making several attempts to get refrigerated lorries across the Channel before paperwork is agreed by officials could eventually hit farmers' profits. 

“There are huge hold-ups," he said.

"Journeys that were taking 24 hours are now taking easily 48 hours or more. One lorry load of lamb carcasses was sent back from Calais to where it started in Kenilworth just last week.

“The cost of transport and lorry time – driver time if you like – is double what it was recently.”

A refrigerated lorry of lamb carcasses can last up 40 days, without the meat being spoiled.

"One lorry load of lamb carcasses was sent back from Calais to where it started in Kenilworth just last week" – Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association

He said medium-sized abattoirs in the UK have reported to the NSA having to appoint someone full time to do the paperwork for meat heading to the EU, as well as an agent in France to take care of the load when it moves on from Calais, adding further costs and complexity.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA, warned this week that EU customers will abandon British businesses and look elsewhere for meat imports if problems at the UK-EU border continued.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “All exports of live animals and products of animal origin to the EU now require an Export Health Certificate signed by an official vet. We’ve always been clear that there would be new processes for traders, and we continue to support them in their transition to these new arrangements.

“We are working closely with British meat processors to ensure they can take advantage of the opportunities and changes being outside the single market and customs union will bring, and overall businesses are adjusting well to the new rules and continue to trade effectively.”

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