BY GRANT COCHRANE
Around 50,000 tonnes of food passes through UK ports each day – approximately the same weight as the Titanic – and bringing that sheer volume of produce into the country with minimal fuss or delay is no easy feat.
International cooperation throughout the supply chain is needed to streamline the passage of food into the UK – so how will this process work in post-Brexit Britain?
With 40% of UK imports coming from the EU or countries with EU trade deals, the UK currently benefits from import checks in ports such as Rotterdam, where produce from farms and factories in Africa, Asia and the Americas is typically checked before being sent to the rest of the EU-28.
Once outside of the EU and with no equivalent agreement in place, the UK faces having to make these checks itself, prompting warnings from the British Retail Consortium and others that the extra red tape could see large quantities of food rotting at our borders.
The Government hinted in July that it would consider waiving border checks to prevent delays, but with just six months until Brexit, there is still confusion.
The Chequers plan outlined the UK’s proposal of establishing a new free trade area with zero tariffs, including maintaining a common rulebook for goods, such as agri-food, to provide for a frictionless border between the UK and EU. However, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit still looms large and questions remain about whether the UK will retain EU regulatory controls governing the hygiene and production standards of food and drink imports.
The lack of contingency planning and the prospect of reduced scrutiny on imports has led to concerns from the food industry that criminals will be alert to the opportunities for food fraud in the days after Brexit.
The global supply chain is a vast interconnected network that relies on international communication and cooperation. Food can cross multiple borders and pass through many hands before it reaches the shelves, and with each exchange the risk of malpractice increases.
In addition, Government proposals for reform of the UK’s Food Standards Agency could make it incumbent on the food industry to maintain its own high standards. A move towards self-regulation and the potential for falling standards post-Brexit will make data sharing and transparency ever more important.
Transparency will be the watchword for shoppers, too. In the aftermath of the horse meat scandal and with uncertainty around the integrity of imports, it is no wonder that UK shoppers are becoming increasingly concerned over the quality and authenticity of the products they will be buying post-Brexit.
Consumers are already worried about chlorine-washed chicken being imported from the US and hormone-injected beef entering the market once Britain has left the EU. If this is to be the case, then consumers will want to be able to make informed choices about the food they buy, with appropriate assurances of where it has come from and how it has been processed.
According to research commissioned by Oritain, 42% place the risk of food mislabelling among their top three concerns for imported food standards following Brexit. We also found that nearly half of UK shoppers would pay more for food that has had its origin independently verified, while 71% felt it was important to know where their food was produced when deciding what to buy.
With confusion around what food regulation will look like post-Brexit, and the risk of counterfeiting and mislabelling, traceability is the greatest weapon in the food industry’s armoury to protect their supply chains from fraud.
As shoppers grow more discerning and demand assurances of where and how their food is produced, and food manufacturers attempt to navigate the uncertainties of Brexit, a growing number of brands are using forensic science to test the intrinsic properties of products to satisfy both issues.
Packages and labels can be altered – but traceability methods that test the intrinsic properties of the product itself cannot. Verifying the origin of food is, therefore, the most reliable way to secure supply chains against fraud, and the best way to give consumers the assurances they want over the quality and the authenticity of the food they buy.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020