The Government in the United Kingdom has set out long-delayed plans on how checks on food imports will work.

The draft Border Target Operating Model was developed with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. A six-week consultation period is now open, with the final version being published later this year.

UK exporters to the European Union have faced checks since January 2021, after the UK left Europe.

Key dates
The introduction of the model will be phased in over a year-long period beginning in October this year. 

October 31 will see the introduction of health certification on imports of medium-risk animal products, plants, plant products, and high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU. Authorities will be notified of products that may pose a higher risk of entering the country, allowing targeted checks on items of concern.

Beginning at the end of January 2024, documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks on medium-risk animal and plant products and high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU will start. Safety and security declarations for EU imports will come into force on Oct. 31, 2024. 

The proposed model aims to prevent delays at the border through a reduction in physical checks for many goods, and by ensuring that controls take place away from ports where this is needed. The risk-based model will use data and technology to simplify and streamline import trade processes.

The UK Government said the system will deliver food that is safe to eat whilst maintaining security of supply for consumers and help disrupt criminal activity. 

Richard Benyon, Biosecurity Minister, said: “It is vital that we have strong border controls in place. Invasive diseases could cost our farms and businesses billions of pounds, threaten our food safety and break confidence in UK exports around the world.” 

Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said the authority supported the introduction of risk-based controls on food coming into the UK from the EU.

“We also welcome an imports regime that is consistent for food and feed whether it comes from the EU or the rest of the world. It is vital that inspectors at ports can act where the data or other intelligence suggests there might be a risk. Inspectors need complete and timely information about food and feed coming into the UK so that checks and sampling at the border can be conducted as efficiently and as effectively as possible,” she said.

Largely positive response
New checks and controls will be introduced for Irish goods moving from Ireland directly to Great Britain as part of the Windsor Framework. 

A spokesperson for the Fresh Produce Consortium said it supports the long-awaited publication of the draft model.

“We will work with the UK Government to facilitate responsible companies in the fresh produce, flower, and plant sector to utilize their expertise to the best effect to maximize efficiency, food safety, and biosecurity.”

Lizzie Wilson, National Pig Association chief executive, said it was a long overdue but welcome development.

“After so many delays, the government must now ensure the timetable does not slip any further. The government’s failure to implement proper checks on imports coming into the country has been unacceptable and the lack of checks has clearly exposed the UK to a greater risk of a devastating African swine fever outbreak.”

Nichola Mallon, head of trade at Logistics UK, said the business will need as much time as possible to prepare for a new trading regime. “As always, the devil will be in the details in the new proposals, and it is vital that the government and business continue to test the model to ensure it is fit for purpose.” 

However, the Cold Chain Federation said the plans were a “massive disappointment.”

“They solve none of the real risks facing our post-Brexit food supply chains and will exacerbate shortages on the shelf and food inflation. When plans to bring in controls starting from July 2022 were canceled, we were promised a fundamentally new approach to how the UK would manage its border, that is not what this proposal is. None of the fundamental problems have been solved and businesses have nowhere near enough time to prepare,” said Shane Brennan, the group’s chief executive.

“Overall, exporting products such as meat and dairy from the EU into the UK will be more expensive, slower, and more complicated. We have to expect that many EU-based food exporters will take one look at these proposals and decide to cease supplying UK customers.” 

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said the focus needs to be more on the regime for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks.

“Government officials have had much to say about regulatory burdens not being too onerous on businesses in the new regime, but there’s much less being said about the planned effectiveness and capability of it when it comes to SPS checks. To focus so heavily on reducing burdens for business and keeping traffic moving, as opposed to talking more about having a better regime of checks that are fit for purpose, is another imbalance in what I’ve read so far. Sensible checks not only keep us safe, but they also support good businesses from being undercut by unscrupulous competitors,” said Helen Buckingham, chartered EHP and regulatory policy expert.

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