CIEH has backed the UK government’s decision to delay imposing checks on food imports from the EU, highlighting the need to use the time to address concerns about the future regime. The decision comes against a backdrop of shortages in shops and supermarkets, along with a fall in the number of lorry drivers, putting further pressure on supply chains.
Measures, such as the requirement to pre-notify British officials about agricultural and food imports from the EU, will now start on 1 January 2022 rather than 1 October this year. The requirement for EU firms to obtain export health certificates before sending live animals and animal products to Britain has also been put back, to 1 July 2022.
Kate Thompson, CIEH Wales Director, gave a cautious welcome to the government’s move. She said: “On balance, the delays are probably sensible given the need to build more border control posts, address the skills shortage crisis and ensure businesses are ready.
“However, the mixed response from our members working in ports across the country shows the disparate level of readiness from port to port. Some places are reporting that they are simply not ready for these controls to be implemented.”
The implications for home-based businesses that need to comply with EU rules for Third Country Exports is also a concern, as it may cause an unfair advantage for goods entering the UK as they are not yet subject to any reciprocal controls. The EU has implemented full checks on UK goods since the start of this year.
CIEH port health ambassador John Ambrose, who’s been coordinating meetings on the changes, said that port health officers are bracing themselves for a ‘tidal wave’ of checks on imports from the EU that will start in the new year.
“From January, all imports of products of animal origin will be required to be pre-notified so that checks can be carried out on health certificates,” he said. This will initially be a ‘soft’ approach to ensure that exporters supply the correct documentation prior to the full implementation of checks from July 2022, after which consignments that do not comply will be rejected.
“The exact numbers of document checks that will be carried out are not known, but it will see a significant jump in checks at ports around England and Wales putting pressure on front line staff. Port health authorities have been recruiting staff for these checks and training them in preparation,” he said.
Tony Baldock, head of port health, Ashford, also drew attention to the lack of qualified staff able to undertake export and import controls. “It is causing problems and has been blamed in part as the reason for further delay,” he said.
“It could be addressed easily if environmental health professionals are recognised as equivalent to EU colleagues performing Official Veterinarian (OV) roles concerning food and feed control. The recognition would be an excellent way to supply additional resource and boost numbers at a critical time.”