On February 22, supermarkets that are bringing meat products from Great Britain all the way to Northern Ireland are facing new bureaucracy. This change is one of the consequences of Brexit and the Irish Sea border.
The retailers must now use the Expert Health Certificates or the EHCs to import all chilled, processed meat. This includes products like minced meat and fresh sausages.
Northern Ireland has remained a part of the European Union’s single market for goods, which means that food products entering from the rest of the United Kingdom must undergo the European Union’s import procedures first.
Central to this is EHCs, a certificate that a vet signs for every single consignment of animal origin products such as fish, meat, dairy, and eggs.
The supermarkets have been given a grace period until April 2021 where they do not need the EHCs for most of the animal origin products. However, the European Union considers some of the meat products to be high-risk goods, so they now need EHCs.
The retailers see the new meat processes as the first real test for how the EHC process will work as soon as the grace period expires later this year. The UK government has asked the European Union to extend the grace period from April 2021 to early 2023 to give business owners time.
The Joint Committee, the UK-EU body overseeing the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, will meet this week, and they may decide on new grace periods. Some meat products face an outright ban from GB-NI export in July 2021 unless a further agreement can be reached.
The UK government is helping businesses with the cost of EHCs through its Movement Assistance Scheme.
Supply to Schools, Hospitals, and Prisons
Meanwhile, an official minute of a meeting between Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and retailers confirms Mr. Poots was told that the sea border could eventually lead to interruptions to food supplies to schools and hospitals.
The meeting took place in January 2021. In its aftermath, the Democratic Unionist Party minister said it was made “very clear” that supplies could be affected if grace periods were not extended. This could severely affect the livelihood of thousands of people.
The departments of health and education played down the issue, and political rivals accused Mr. Poots of scaremongering.
However, the minute does record that the Henderson Group, which owns the Spar brand in Northern Ireland, raised concerns about its business’s wholesale foodservice part.
The minute, which was released after a Freedom of Information request, reads: “Concerns regarding food service – hospitality, disruption to supply to schools, hospitals, and prisons.”
In a statement, the Henderson Group said: “The Henderson Group has been engaging constructively with Daera (Department of Agriculture) and other relevant bodies to ensure disruption to the supply chain is minimized.
“This covers our foodservice, wholesale and retail businesses. We are currently dealing with some delays, not shortages.”