Analysis: How Fortress Europe border checks are hitting the poultry industry

Meat has been destroyed and liquid egg refused entry, as the strict enforcement of new EU rules costs British poultry dear

The egg and poultry industries are facing increased costs and logistical problems due to new rules for exporters now Britain has left the EU.

Some products, such as liquid egg melange, which is usually exported to the EU for use in processing or manufacture, have been particularly badly hit. Unlike deliveries of other animal products, which have experienced delays due to checks of Export Health Certificates, lorry-loads of melange have been simply refused at the border with the EU.  “I am not aware of any loads getting out of the UK,” said Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, who said he was liaising with Defra to try and find out answers and possible solutions.

“The situation is starting to get fairly critical,” he said. “All [melange]is exported, there is no handling of it here.”

British poultry exporters have also experienced severe delays shipping meat to the EU, resulting in lorry loads of meat that has gone off and had to be sent back for rendering.

The British Poultry Council said the new trading arrangements with the EU, which meant each shipment of meat required new paperwork and vet checks, could for some businesses prove “catastrophic”.

British Poultry Council Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said the certification procedures for third countries exporting to the UK were not designed with perishable goods in mind. The new procedures of issuing Export Health Certificates, had caused “severe delays” leading to some lorry loads of poultry meat having to be sent back for rendering.  

“It has either gone off due to delays in complex bureaucracy, or hauliers refuse to take it on in the first place, knowing the difficulties that face them,” said Griffiths.

Griffiths said the UK’s FTA, which was agreed on 24 December, meant British poultry meat businesses had less than a week to prepare for EU exit and the issues that come with it. 

David Keeble is Transformation Director and Brexit Lead at Avara Foods. He told Poultry Business the company was currently only exporting 20% of its usual volumes of poultry to the EU.

“Like others in the foods industry, we’ve experienced significant delays at both Calais and Rotterdam caused by misalignment of veterinary checks and new regulatory paperwork requirements. I think many of us had expected a ‘light-touch approach’ from European customs and veterinary officials while new processes were bedding in, but instead we’ve seen very strict adherence to new rules and regulations which has caused delays and much frustration for Avara, our hauliers and our customers.”

Keeble said he and his team had made “extensive preparations” in the months leading up to Brexit, recognising export and import processes would change regardless of the trade deal outcome. Key to this strategy was the creation of an internal Brexit Planning team to manage the transition.

“No amount of planning however could fully negate the challenges we’ve faced since the start of the year,” said Keeble.

“Currently we’re only exporting approximately 20% of our usual volumes but are planning to increase that in the coming days and weeks. Overall, we’re doing better than many exporters and this reflects the continued hard work of our Brexit team which remains focussed on getting the best outcomes for Avara and our European customers during the transition period.”

Other parts of the poultry industry are facing different challenges and new layers of red tape. Pullet hatcheries based in England have also experienced significant problems since the end of the transition period. Day old chicks are usually shipped to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where there are no pullet hatcheries, but EU rules now require chicks to be transported in “disposable packaging” rather than the plastic crates they would previously have been transported in. This means hatcheries are having to buy either cardboard boxes or single use plastic crates, adding cost and complexity to their operations. “It is added cost and lots of extra packaging, it is just madness,” said Williams.

“The moment we stepped out of the EU and the single market and the customs union, we are now subject to the full force of fortress Europe,” Williams said.

Despite the Northern Ireland protocol, shipments of chicks from England to Northern Ireland were effectively subject to the same checks as if they were being moved into the EU, with a defacto border in the Irish Sea.

Williams said the BEIC would lobby to relax the rules to be able to use reusable plastic for pullet chicks, but said this would have to now be done via EU colleagues, and it was far from certain when or whether this could be accomplished.

The government has said many of the reported issues are teething problems. Williams acknowledged some issues, such as the requirement for EHCs, may become easier to manage with time, as exporters became faster and more experienced in filling out forms. However, other issues were part and parcel of the UK’s new status as a third country.

Williams said UK packers would have to start stamping GB on every egg, to ensure shell eggs can continue to be exported. Ungraded eggs are now no longer allowed to be exported to the EU.

“What we are going to do going forward is put GB on every egg,” said Williams. Although producers don’t know in advance whether their eggs will be sold in the UK or exported, “unless they have GB on every shell that shuts it off straight away, so that is what we are going to do going forward.”

One unintended consequence is this means UK packers can no longer export farm seconds, which due to their shell condition cannot go through the printers. “It is a blanket ban because the EHC requires eggs to have an establishment number, class B indicator and the ISO. With farm seconds there is no way they can go through the printers, so that has shut that off straight away,” said Williams.

He adds that while exporters are likely to get better at filling in the forms, there are now new rules applicable to third countries that are “literally just barriers to trade”. The costs at the moment are unknown. “I despair,” he said.




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