The Post-Brexit Dilemma for the Food Industry

Empty shelves in supermarkets, trucks rejected at borders because of missing papers and delays in international shipping: It has been only 15 days since the UK left the EU and there is still much detail to be ironed out. What does it mean for the food industry?

Despite the trade agreement with the EU, British companies have to declare their products via online systems - and if, for example, food or live animals are involved, additional documents are required. Information on how these processes will work were only announced shortly before the end of the year. This was far too late for many British companies to be able to prepare themselves. Therefore, it is no surprise that many delays can be traced back to paperwork confusion.

Fish prices collapsing in Scotland

In particular, fishing and seafood companies have suffered from the new requirements. Since January 1, seafood is taken to logistics hubs in central Scotland to be certified for onward transport to the EU. According to industry body Scotland Food and Drink, perishable food must reach markets on the continent within 24 hours - But in some cases, the 24-hour deliveries were taking three or more days. In addition, IT problems on the French side of the Channel caused even more chaos. Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said: "Our members are resourceful and have been trying everything they can to get fish to customers in Europe, including new routes, but every delay forces the price of our product down and hands the initiative to our international competitors".

Northern Ireland is also struggling with the fallout of Brexit: Customers are facing empty shelves in supermarkets for time-sensitive products like fresh fruit, vegetables and chilled meat because hundreds of products caught up in supply-chain delays. The province remains part of the United Kingdom, but under the "Northern Ireland Protocol," Northern Ireland also remains in the EU's single market for goods and applies EU customs rules at its ports.

The importance of food safety audits increases

Difficulties are also caused by regulations on customs duties and food safety. For the first time since becoming a member of the EU, British business need to deal with additional food safety forms and customs checks. However, the new regulations not only include extensive paperwork requirements but also further physical inspections. The demand for audits are also on the rise. Emily Rees, Senior Fellow at the European Centre for International Political Economy, explains in the weekly magazine The Grocer: "If you want to export to the EU market, the EU wants to check that you’re abiding by its regulation in these areas. And you can’t necessarily just see that on the basis of a customs check on the final product. So that’s where the question of the audits in establishments becomes important:"

Not sure which regulations apply to your business?

The website of the UK government released a guidance on what you need to do as a food and drink business to work with the EU. The guidance covers important topics such as food labelling, importing and exporting or marketing standards.