Government delay aims to save British importers at least £1bn a year while NFU says checks are crucial to food safety
A “clear dereliction of duty” is how CIEH Northern Ireland Director Gary McFarlane has described the government decision to delay planned checks on food imports from the European Union until ‘late 2023’. They had originally been scheduled to come into effect on July 1st this year.
He told EHN Extra: “We are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this decision. The government is responsible for ensuring the safety and standards of our food, and the move to drop checks and inspections on imports represents a clear dereliction of duty.”
The government announced the decision at the end of April, with the change in approach estimated to save British importers at least £1 billion in annual costs. It comes in the wake of rising inflation prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on energy costs.
The government explained its decision by saying it would be “wrong” to impose new administrative requirements on businesses who may pass-on the associated costs to consumers already facing pressures on their finances.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency said: “The decision will allow British businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic, navigate global supply chain issues and ensure that new costs are not passed on to consumers.
“We want the process for importing goods from the EU to be safe, secure and efficient and we want to harness innovative new technologies to streamline processes and reduce frictions. It’s precisely because of Brexit that we’re able to build this UK-focused system.”
“Unfortunately, it appears to be yet another erosion of the key health protection mechanisms this country relies on and heightens the danger of food fraud and crime.”
However, NFU President Minette Batters described the delay as ‘astounding’ and ‘unacceptable’. She said: “It is astounding that the government is taking such an unacceptable approach to critical checks for agri-food imports from the EU.
“These checks are absolutely crucial to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety and without them we really do leave ourselves at risk. For the introduction of these checks to have been delayed three times was bad enough but to now have them essentially scrapped in favour of an unknown system is unacceptable.”
The public health consequences have also been highlighted by CIEH with McFarlane saying it posed a “very real threat” to consumers. He said: “Unfortunately, it appears to be yet another erosion of the key health protection mechanisms this country relies on and heightens the danger of food fraud and crime.
“Food of unknown origin and questionable quality could well end up on our supermarket shelves. This further delay exposes the UK Government’s apparent failure to prepare for the implications of EU exit.”
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