Analysis: Why the poultry industry needs a Brexit deal, and fast

Michael Gove warns of 7,000 lorry tailbacks, and questions about packaging, labelling and veterinary checks are unresolved

For four years now, the British poultry meat industry has been warning about the implications of leaving the EU without a trade deal.

Now, with less than 100 days until the end of the transition period, there are still many unanswered questions about how imports and exports will be managed, including rules on packaging, labelling, and veterinary checks (see below for a full list of technical issues still to be resolved). This will affect the import and export of poultry meat, breeding stock, hatching eggs and day-old chicks.

Although the government says it still wants to sign a trade agreement with the EU, this is looking increasingly unlikely. If no deal is agreed in the coming days, Boris Johnson says the UK will walk away. 

Trade negotiations with the EU are still ongoing. However, since the row erupted in September about an element of the Withdrawal Agreement affecting goods entering Northern Ireland, tensions have been high between the blocs.

Tick tock

In September George Eustice gave evidence to the EFRA select committee to discuss Brexit preparedness.

Eustice told the EFRA committee: “We are working very hard to try to get an agreement with the EU and that would have zero tariffs on all goods and that would be of assistance,”

If no deal was possible, Eustice said the government would seek to mitigate the impact of tariffs – if they affected consumers’ ability to buy food.

“If there were a significant price rise [and]if that did then translate into serious food affordability problems then the government would look at what actions could be taken,” he said.

His appearance coincided with the publication of a leaked letter written by Michael Gove, which revealed the government’s worst-case scenario for a no-deal Brexit. In it, Gove predicted there could be tailbacks of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent waiting for the relevant checks before being allowed to cross the channel.

In the letter Gove says between 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready and a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic to 60-80% of normal levels.

“This could lead to maximum queues of 7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days,” the document says.

Eustice was asked by the EFRA committee how the government would mitigate the impact of border checks. He responded by saying there was only so much the UK government could do.

“We’ve done all the work in the world to ensure that our own traders have got the export health certificates they need, but if when they arrive at the other side it is all a bit slipshod and disorganised and there is therefore chaos because of failure of the EU to plan, well that is something that is beyond our control.”

But delays at the border is a situation the poultry meat industry simply cannot afford, said Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council. The British poultry meat industry that is heavily reliant on ‘just-in-time’ trade with the EU and Griffiths said he was seriously concerned about urgent business critical issues that Government has failed to answer.

“British poultry meat producers cannot be ready for the end of the transition period while Government is failing to answer fundamental questions on the detail of trade. We simply have not been told what the right paperwork is or some of the detail of what it should contain. To avoid any disruption at the borders we urgently need answers from Government on the scenario that we should be preparing for. Taking back control should not mean penalising British producers and undermine our national food security.

“We are extremely concerned about the current lack of clarity with regards to the structure of our future trading arrangement with the EU – we must know if we are working towards a free trade agreement, or one based on WTO terms. Businesses cannot proceed while uncertainty about our direction of travel continues, and we foresee huge disruption at our borders particularly in the movement of food.

“While we welcome the prioritisation of our high-value breeding stock such as day-old chicks, we remain seriously concerned about the lack of prioritisation of other highly perishable products including fresh poultry meat and hatching eggs. We want to work closely with the Government over the coming months ​to ensure poultry meat businesses have got all the answers they need to be fully prepared for the changes ahead​.”


Business critical issues that require urgent answers from the Government:

The imposition of veterinary and documentary checks and physical inspections on large volumes of fresh/chilled poultry meat must be kept to a minimum to facilitate trade and minimise compliance costs.

Urgent clarification is needed on the ID mark for Northern Ireland so that businesses can be ready to use the new mark on 1st January 2021 and buy packaging with long lead in times.

In addition to using up old stocks of packaging, businesses must also be able to place on the GB market goods held in cold storage at the end of the transition period carrying the UK/EC ID mark for a period 21 months.

Businesses in NI must have the similar 21-month transition period to use up existing packaging and also place on the market goods held in cold storage at the end of the transition period or they will be at a huge disadvantage.

Businesses need urgent clarity on the definition of ‘goods placed on the market’.

Exporters must be able to export products of animal origin held in cold storage and not dispatched bearing the UK/EC ID mark to non-EU countries for a period of time at the end of the transition period.  It is common practice for exporters to accumulate products for export so not being able to export these products would have a huge impact on businesses as there’s no market in the UK for them.

Businesses need urgent clarity on procedure for moving live poultry and products of animal origin between GB and NI.

The UK must have third country approval and plant listings for export to the EU in place by October.

The UK must communicate and agree changes on certification for certain non-EU countries and ID mark arrangements with all non-EU countries.

Export health certificates for exports of chilled meat preparations, minced meat and of poultry meat MSM must be made available to continue trade with the EU.

The UK must have access to sufficient veterinary resources for the increased certification requirements and checks on imports.

Businesses need clarity on the required certificates for import from the EU and the rest of the world.

A workable export facilitation scheme must be devised to allows groupage and mixed loads to be sent to the EU and NI. UK businesses must have advanced knowledge of the details to adapt accordingly.





In May, the government published its plans for the UK Global Tariff (UKGT) which will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff on 1 January 2021 at the end of the Transition Period.

Import tariffs on agricultural produce including eggs and poultry will be maintained after the Brexit transition period ends, the government has announced. There has been a small change in egg tariffs, which were set at 31%, and have been marginally reduced to 29%.

The decision, announced by Liz Truss, secretary of state for the Department of International Trade, was made following sustained lobbying by farming groups and trade bodies such as the British Egg Industry Council, which had warned that cutting import tariffs could open the doors to cheap imports of battery cage eggs that could wipe out parts of the UK egg industry.


Get Our E-Newsletter - Weekly email news from Poultry News
Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy