CIEH calls for veterinary agreement with EU as costs to food businesses soar

23 February 2022, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has called for the UK and the EU to strike a veterinary agreement to end the nightmare of post-Brexit red tape hitting UK food businesses.

As a member of the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certification working group, CIEH has joined forces with food and feed trade associations, hauliers, farmers and veterinary professionals, to highlight the cost of post EU Exit red tape. In the year to November 2021, new Export Health Certificate (EHC) requirements for exports to the EU cost businesses an estimated £60m in paperwork, with more than 288 thousand EHC applications requiring the equivalent of 580,000 certifier hours. 

Businesses trading in food and drink with the EU have faced a range of new requirements and additional red tape. For many exporters, the new rules are complex, costly, and time-consuming, and are acting a barrier to trading. There is currently a need for UK businesses to engage with veterinarians to complete EHCs alongside navigating a range of new IT systems and platforms.

However, with the number of EU vets registering to work in the UK dropping by more than two thirds, the already extreme demands on the UK veterinary cohort is being exacerbated. This has severely depleted the availability of qualified staff to certify not only the paperwork now required for export to the EU, but to anywhere in the world.

To cover these additional costs Great Britain’s food industry would have needed to generate around £3bn of total additional sales (assuming a 2 per cent profit margin) in the first year of Brexit. However, as a result of these new costs many food businesses can no longer afford to export to the EU. This means that many companies have ceased to trade with their previous largest export market, which impacts on livelihoods and the GB economy.

Short shelf-life foods are particularly impacted by the new requirements. Time-sensitive Just In Time production and distribution means that any delays in the transportation compromises the ability to sell them. Consequently, GB export to the Continent of short shelf-life chilled prepared foods is now largely unviable. 

The SPS working group is urgently calling for:

  • SPS/veterinary agreement with the EU to reduce administrative burden and therefore certification costs
  • Digitisation of paper systems - and to be certain of their acceptance in Member States/Northern Ireland
  • Certification workforce recruitment, planning, training and retention
  • Certainty regarding implementation of EU-GB trade on introduction of veterinary checks by GB on 1st July and in a second wave on 1st November 2022 to ensure there is a level playing field between GB and the EU on both exports and imports.
  • Clarity on cost implications/continued viability of imports from EU.  GB food security and availability of ingredients/finished products being threatened by lack of resources to check incoming food, coupled with EU exporters deciding not to attempt to supply GB owing to the additional admin burden and costs

Kate Thompson, CIEH Director Wales said:

“The number of EU vets registering to work in the UK has dropped by more than two thirds and there are limitations on the Export Health Certificates (EHCs) that can be signed by environmental health professionals.

We would like to see a SPS/veterinary agreement with the EU that could assist in reducing these burdens, and in supporting trade. These pressures are going to increase significantly when checks on imports are introduced in July.

Within the UK and Ireland, the environmental health workforce is highly qualified and alongside vets, have the training, knowledge, and skills, to undertake this work. They are more than capable in this space and can assist in alleviating the pressures. Now is the time to break down barriers and recognise their skills.”

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