NI food businesses may re-think their supply chain
British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) Policy Advisor, Peter Hardwick, thinks that a hard-Brexit will be catastrophic for meat processors in Northern Ireland. "Some companies may be forced to completely re-think their supply chain as they deal with increased costs and reduced competitiveness", he said in a panel discussion on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Inside Business’ programme.
Trade will be disrupted by the Third Country status of the UK following the withdrawal from the EU. Third Country listing will mean that in some cases, British producers won’t be able to continue to trade products that they currently trade. A good example of this is sausages and mince. As part of the EU, British producers can trade fresh, chilled products. However, according to current Defra advice, as a Third Country those same products will be required to have been frozen to minus 18 degrees. This means that, overnight, some fresh products will not be able to cross borders.
"Whereas previously food products could move seamlessly and freely between countries, after Brexit, any product or ingredient of animal origin will need a vet or environmental health officer to check and sign it off. This will be a huge additional bureaucratic burden.
If agreements are in place and we’re recognised as having a high health status then, in theory, the Export Health Certificate (EHC) text can be simplified to a limited extent. But this still doesn’t solve the looming problem of a chronic shortage of vets to carry out these checks," Mr. Hardwick explained.
He explained that checks will have to happen on every product crossing the border that contains any ingredient of animal origin: "This can be anything from a prepacked Caesar salad bowl to a frozen pizza to a chicken sandwich. Any vehicle crossing the border will need an EHC for each item. Not only that, it will need to contain an audit trail for all products of animal origin that went into each item."
The task may more difficult than expected as Great Britain is facing a 12% shortage of vets. "After Brexit, we simply won’t have enough people on the ground to carry out inspections and have little hope of finding enough additional vets and health officers to cope with the extra workload. There has been talk of creating a certification support officer role to assist existing vets but, while this might mitigate the problem somewhat, it certainly won’t solve it completely. The EHC still needs to be completed by a vet who has full oversight of processes," observed Mr. Hardwick.
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