Brexit red tape costs food businesses £60m

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Brexit red tape cost food firms about £60m last year, with Export Health Certificates the worst offender
Brexit red tape cost food firms about £60m last year, with Export Health Certificates the worst offender

Related tags Brexit official vet

Brexit red tape has cost food businesses £60m in 2021, as continued shortages of registered veterinarians placed pressure on an industry already stretched thin after the UK’s split from the EU.

The SPS Certification Working Group – a cross-industry, veterinary and environmental health group – highlighted the costs that increased paperwork in the wake of Brexit has had on the food industry in the 12 months to November 2021. 

The estimates suggest Export Health Certificates (EHCs) requirements imposed on exports to the EU have cost at least £60m in paperwork, with more than 288,000 EHC applications requiring the equivalent of 580,000 certifier hours – 285 certifier years. 

This situation has been further exacerbated by a lack of registered veterinarians, with the number of EU vets registering to work in the UK dropping by more than two thirds.  

‘Underestimating the cost’ 

Karin Goodburn, director of the Chilled Food Association and chair of the SPS Certification Working Group, said: “These already disturbing figures are in fact an underestimate of the total cost to the industry as they exclude bulk orders of EHCs from the Animal and Plant Health Agency made in one request and the wider costs of Brexit SPS requirements. 

“Without urgent action the situation is only set to deteriorate and there are no quick fixes. As an example, it takes more than five years to train the vets required we need to certify the EHCs. However, we are proposing solutions and call on Government to support us in ensuring the viability of our food businesses.” 

To cover these additional costs Britain’s food industry would have needed to generate around £3bn of total additional sales – assuming a 2% profit margin – in the first year of Brexit, claimed the SPS group. 

Unable to afford to export 

“However, as a result of these new costs many food businesses can no longer afford to export to the EU,”​ it continued. “This means that many companies have ceased to trade with their previous largest export market, which impacts on livelihoods and the GB economy.” 

In response to the spiraling costs, the working group made a number of proposals to help ease the burden of EHCs on food businesses 

This included: an SPS/Veterinary agreement with the EU to reduce administrative burden and costs; digitisation of paper systems; certification workforce recruitment and clarity on cost implications/continued viability of imports from the EU. More info can be found in the box below. 

Meanwhile, Labour shortages – particularly a lack of Official Veterinarians in abattoirs – continued to create chaos and uncertainty for meat processors,​ but opportunities could soon present themselves to help them reshape their future. 


Oghma Partners comment on EHCs

Commenting on the number of export health certificates increasing to more than 288,000 and the UK needing to re-join some EU regimes, Mark Lynch, Partner at corporate finance house, Oghma Partners, said: “The number of export health certificates, or EHCs, needed to send food to the EU after Brexit has increased from 29,000 in 2020 to more than 288,000 in 2021 according to official government figures. These certificates are needed to be able to export to the EU and require vets to sign them off. 

“Unfortunately the new immigration rules appear to have significantly reduced EU veterinary applicants - as a result there is a general squeeze on vets availability to care for UK livestock and certify food as safe for export.  

“Once again this issue highlights the enormous pain, reduced exports for British Farming and challenge the industry faces going forward. Minette Batters speech at the NFU conference yesterday highlighted the impact of post Brexit immigration rules on abattoir staffing.  

“Ms Batters flagged that 40,000 pigs have been culled and a further 200,000 are under threat of culling due to government’s post Brexit policies. Not only is this situation a total waste of all manner of resources, it surely is an appalling situation for a country that is rightly proud of its animal welfare record. It is predictable, as it is only logical, that the UK will be forced to re-join some EU regimes in due course, it is only a matter of when.” 

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1 comment

EHCs red tape - possible solutions

Posted by Susan Brown,

If there is a shortage of official vets, one solution would be to widen the breadth of foodstuffs Food Competent Certifying Officers (FCCOs) can certify. Most EHOs and Food Safety Officers are more than qualified to judge whether something is safe to eat.
Another solution could be to incentivise local authorities to provide the Export Health Certificate service which is currently a discretionary system. Government could consider subsidising the certification service too to cut cost to business..

The list of professional who can certify, on the government website, needs improving to make it more readable and detailed so businesses can search which the type of products etc each Official vet or FCCO can certify.

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