Brexit red tape leads to food waste worries

By Jerome Smail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Brexit-related red tape is holding up food supplies at borders. Pic: Getty Images
Brexit-related red tape is holding up food supplies at borders. Pic: Getty Images

Related tags: Supply chain, Meat & Seafood

Concerns over food waste have been raised within the meat and seafood industries following border delays as a result of the new UK customs system.

Red tape involving the export of food products following the UK’s exit from the EU has reportedly led to the loss of perishable goods as orders are held up at ports around Europe.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has received ‘a growing number of calls’ from meat companies experiencing problems at the borders.

Thrown away

According to the BMPA, every hour a lorry load of meat is delayed increases the chance of the order being reduced in price, cancelled and returned or, in the most severe cases, thrown away and ending up in landfill.

Nick Allen, CEO of the BMPA, said: “Drivers have been reporting long delays as they wait for HMRC to process the customs documents.

“One of our members reported on 11 January that he had six lorry loads of product ​[value around £300,000] all waiting for customs clearance into the Republic of Ireland. At the time, one of those loads was about to be returned to the processing company after waiting five days for clearance.”

The current certification system is a ‘20th century relic and not fit for purpose for a modern just-in-time food supply chain’, according to the BMPA. The organisation is calling for current customs and certification system to be modernised and digitised.

Severe delays

The Scottish Seafood Association has also warned of waste resulting from backlogs due to post-Brexit red tape. However, Seafood Scotland welcomed the Government's recent pledge of £23m in funds to support suppliers in the sector hit by such delays.

Delays have been caused by the time it takes to get an Export Health Certificate for both wild-caught fish and farmed salmon. Vets are required to sign off each consignment and it has been claimed that the process is taking up to six times longer than expected.

Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the SSA, said: “Trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity.

“Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked.”

Industry support

Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged a £23m support package for the Scottish seafood industry following the border problems resulting from both Brexit and COVID-19 restrictions.

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland said: “After almost three weeks of voicing their concerns and frustrations, we welcome the fact that the Scottish seafood sector has been heard and action is being taken. While we await the full detail of the package, we know that there will be questions around the extent to which it supports the entire supply chain, from fleet to export. 

“As we currently understand it, the deal offers crucial short-term assistance and includes much to be welcomed, particularly the £23m of new funding. It is also reassuring to see that the processing sector is set to be included in future support packages. This will offer a ray of light to some small and medium sized companies that have experienced crippling losses over the past few weeks.  However, larger companies and smaller shellfish boats are still vulnerable, and will be hoping that they can access support too.  

“Money will offer a much needed sticking plaster covering the losses over the last few weeks, but to completely staunch the wound, the sector still needs a period of grace during which the systems must be overhauled so they are fit for purpose. It is also essential that groupage returns to a fully operational state as a matter of urgency.”  

Supply surplus

While the issue of perishable food loss has been brought into sharp focus by delays and backlogs at the borders, there is also the possibility that Brexit will have a longer-term impact on the levels of waste and surplus in the food supply chain.

The food charity FareShare is monitoring the situation. Around 30% of the food the organisation redistributes comes from retailers, with the rest from farmers, producers and manufacturers higher up the chain.

“Although as yet we have not seen a notable difference in surplus food volumes from the supply chain, we have a robust infrastructure in place and are ready to receive large quantities of food, which may become surplus as a result of Brexit, whenever and wherever we can,”​ said Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare.

“As we’ve demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are always ready to work at short notice with the food industry and with charities across the UK, to ensure that that no good food goes to waste,”​ she added.

“During lockdown, the amount of food we redistributed from the food service industry increased seven-fold, due to businesses including restaurants, hotels and pubs having to close.”

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