Understanding the updated agricultural import regulations

Customs guru Arne Mielken discusses the UK Government’s new veterinary border controls

Understanding the updated agricultural import regulations

Just a few days remain before the UK Government impose stricter controls on a wide range of agricultural and food products arriving from the European Union (EU). These new rules and regulations come into force on January 31st, when importers of certain products will be required to obtain Export Health Certificates (EHCs). 

The EU has already imposed similar controls on products leaving the UK, and EHCs will be familiar documents to many seasoned businesses involved in the industry. But anyone whose business imports ‘agri-food products’ from the EU should get up to speed swiftly regarding the implementation of these new extended UK veterinary controls. ‘Agri-food’ products are defined as food produced as a result of agriculture.

Depending on the item’s risk status, certain imported goods will only be allowed into the UK providing they are accompanied by a certificate issued by a veterinary professional. European vets must guarantee that the goods are pest and disease free, and therefore safe to eat.

When the UK unveiled its Border Target Operating Model in 2023, it devised a series of risk categories for products arriving from the EU. These included the importing of live animals, any item of animal origin, animal-by-products, as well as pet food and plant products.

For example, freshly cooked, chilled or frozen meats have been assessed as being ‘medium risk’. Low risk foods and feeds, such as highly processed produce that does not require refrigeration, will not need a certificate issued by a veterinary or plant professional. For these goods, a standard commercial document will suffice.

The new certificates, which are required from the end of this month, will cost between £50 and £150. This needs to be paid by the exporter. And the goods may also need to be inspected at UK Border Control Posts from the spring of 2024. Any additional cost and time delay must be borne by UK importers.

If the necessary documentation is unavailable, or the product does not conform to UK health standards, it can be destroyed at point of entry. Live animals are always subject to physical controls and extensive paperwork. 

They are deemed to be ‘high risk’ goods. And anyone transporting live animals into the UK is advised to become familiar with the new rules as soon as possible. This even applies to live horses moving between the EU and UK to attend shows or sporting events.

Regardless of risk category, all food, feed and plants need to be documented with Defra (Government Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) at least 24 hours before they arrive in the UK. Evidence of this is needed on the customs declaration form.

It is hoped that the system will be simplified over time, which will help to ease the burden of paperwork and reduce costs for UK importers. However, this will not be available by the time the new procedures kick-in at the end of January.

For importers of food, feed and plant products, these new rules will make life even more burdensome and costly when trading with the EU. Supply chains will suffer once again. My advice is to get familiar with the new rules as quickly as possible. Arrange processes and procedures to manage this change and, if necessary, seek out the support of a customs expert.

Arne Mielken
Arne Mielken

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