The Government in the United Kingdom has confirmed a delay to import inspections until January next year.

Reports in early August suggested post-Brexit border controls were to be pushed back for the fifth time.

Sanitary and phytosanitary controls were delayed for three months and will now be introduced beginning Jan. 31, 2024. This includes 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.

Documentary and risk-based physical inspections on medium risk animal products, plant products and high risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU will be implemented in late April 2024.

The Border Target Operating Model was developed with the help of the Scottish and Welsh Governments and following engagement with businesses in the UK.

Phytosanitary certificates will be digitized from 2023 with take-up depending on the readiness of trade partners.

Officials said risks from inadequate controls were significant. A recent UK-wide Salmonella outbreak caused by chicken products from Poland resulted in more than 1,000 confirmed illnesses, with potentially as many as 4,000 additional cases that were not reported, and cost an estimated £7.7 million ($9.7 million).

Recent inspections of shops by local authorities in the UK detected frozen, raw and uncooked meat products marked as suitable only for sale in the originating country. Further investigations found the items had been purchased by two importers, linked to more than 280 UK retail outlets. Products were exported commercially and pre-notified on the UK imports system. Although they didn’t test positive for African Swine Fever, the fact they reached the UK presents a serious threat to the pig industry.

Reaction to model and new timelines
Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, said: “It’s clear, government has acted upon our concerns and will now implement a unique border approach for the benefit of consumers and industry. This focused risk-based approach will reinforce UK biosecurity and promote self-regulation to minimize supply chain disruption.”

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said there remains ambiguity about the future charging mechanism for checks. The group said fees and charges should be set at the local level to account for the unique requirements and resources of individual regions.

CIEH added there was a need for clarity in the risk categorization of goods. The distinction between high, medium, and low-risk is vital to ensure that controls maintain high standards without causing unnecessary delays.

“While the Border Target Operating Model promises an efficient and effective system, CIEH and our members have been consistent in demanding that it remains robust in safeguarding public health, food safety, and biosecurity. Furthermore, while we wholeheartedly support innovations that streamline trade and enhance security, it’s essential that such schemes are not introduced at the expense of rigorous safety and public health controls,” said Louise Hosking, executive director of environmental health.

Nichola Mallon, head of Trade and Devolved Policy at Logistics UK, said the group will study the model to see if it provides the detail needed by members and EU suppliers.

“Will three months be sufficient time for government to provide the necessary technical detail and guidance that businesses will need to change processes and adapt to the changes outlined by the new trading arrangements?,” she asked.

“After so much time, and so many delays, logistics businesses are losing confidence in the government’s ability to provide workable solutions to enable the new trading arrangements to be implemented.” 

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said the delay was “hugely frustrating”.

“For the past three years, our farmers have faced the full reach of EU controls on our exports while the EU has enjoyed continued easy access to the UK marketplace. It’s hugely frustrating for many producers that the government has yet again delayed the implementation of vital checks on goods entering from the EU,” said Minette Batters, NFU president.

The International Meat Trade Association (IMTA) raised concerns about the exact rates of physical checks, risk categories for rest of world products and the SPS charging regime.

“I think the delay will come as a relief to many of our members who have been concerned about the introduction of certification for imports from the EU and how that will impact on just in time supply chains. We hope that there will be a redoubling of efforts from government to engage with industry to ensure that when the, now delayed, changes are introduced sufficient consideration is given to just in time supply chains,” said Dan Soper, IMTA policy manager.

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