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Health Series: Expert Comment

No deal chaos to hit food businesses trading across the Irish border, warn experts

A new briefing published by the Food Research Collaboration argues that a no-deal Brexit would lead to disruption in food supplies across Ireland

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

Crashing out of the EU without a deal would leave many food businesses operating in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with mounting costs and paperwork, with a likely detrimental impact on consumers and public health, warn food policy experts.

A new briefing, published as part of the Food Research Collaboration’s Food Brexit Briefing series, argues that a no-deal Brexit would lead to disruption in food supplies across Ireland, due to the introduction of border controls on foods entering Ireland from the UK, with the Republic of Ireland (ROI) legally obliged to impose controls on the Irish side of the border.

Dr Rosalind Sharpe from the Food Research Collaboration, which is based at City, University of London, said:

"Since the Good Friday Agreement, the food sectors on both sides of the border have quietly integrated. Farms and food businesses, from the giant to the micro, depend on being able to ship goods easily across the border. A no-deal Brexit pulls the rug from under them. Some could go out of businesses within days."

Gary McFarlane, Director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Northern Ireland, said:

"This is a serious issue for both food businesses and public authorities in NI. There aren’t enough resources or qualified professionals available to help the significant numbers of businesses that will be affected with the documentation necessary for cross-border trade. Without that resource businesses risk losing that trade. And that then risks their future viability with all of the implications that brings".

Capacity concerns

For example, a sandwich maker producing five different types of sandwiches containing animal products - such as butter, cheese, fish or meat - and shipping them to 20 outlets across the border on a daily basis would need 100 certificates every day.

This is because foods containing constituents of animal origin will need to be accompanied by an Export Health Certificate, filled in by the exporter and authorised and countersigned by a vet or an Environmental Health Officer, who would in turn need to inspect the goods physically to verify compliance.

Neither small food businesses affected nor the public organisations involved be it local councils or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAREA) in Northern Ireland currently have the capacity and resources to cope with this.

Restricted supplies

The briefing also warns that price hikes and restricted supply are likely to impact fruit and vegetables the most; foods that we are urged to eat more of.

Professor Tim Lang from the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London explained:

"There has been too little attention paid to the impacts a no-deal will have on food flows through the island of Ireland and absolutely zero attention to the impact a no-deal could have on imports of fruit and vegetables into Northern Ireland. These are vitally important. Disruption is a risk to public health and must be avoided".

Professor Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex said:

“A No Deal Brexit threatens food security across the UK but the greatest risk in the UK will be to Northern Ireland. A hard border will severely disrupt flows of raw materials and products, and lead to higher prices and reduced supplies on both sides of the border.  It will imperil the financial viability of farmers and food businesses and lead to higher prices and poorer diets for consumers, especially in poor households.”

The authors urge the UK government to recognise the importance of food flows between NI and ROI and recommend that a no-deal Brexit must be averted; that effective government and governance in NI be put in place before 31 October; and that financial support be made available to Local Authorities in NI to cope with the impacts on consumers and businesses.

For the full set of recommendations read the complete briefing or read a summary here.

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