UK government must clarify classification of European fruit and vegetables given risk to supply chain, says transport body

Transport industry organisation Logistics UK is calling on the government to address the confusion caused by its indication that EU fresh fruit and vegetables are to be reclassified as “medium risk” goods for border inspections, and publish its assessment of the impact on the UK’s supply chain.  

Speaking ahead of the introduction of the first stage of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), which will see checks put in place at the UK’s border with the EU, Nichola Mallon, Logistics UK’s head of trade, is seeking urgent clarification from government about exactly what will be required from businesses to ensure that trade can continue to flow smoothly. 

“Logistics businesses have been pressing government for clarity on how border checks will be done on freight from the EU since the Brexit vote,” she said. “With only days until the first stage of the BTOM is to be introduced, why is the government providing conflicting and confusing information that will slow down the preparedness of the UK’s businesses to trade effectively with their EU suppliers?” 

On 24 January 2024, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) indicated on its website that it was changing its classification of a range of European fruit and vegetable imports from low- to medium-risk, meaning that from 31 October 2024 these medium-risk products will be subject to physical checks before being passed to cross the UK border.

No rationale has been provided for this reclassification of EU fresh produce or any further detail given. According to Mallon, this latest U-turn is causing confusion within the logistics and import industry and is preventing businesses from preparing effectively for the country’s new trading relationship with the EU.

“In selling the BTOM to industry, the government stated that 90 per cent of all sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) commodities – those of plant or animal origin – are low risk, meaning they wouldn’t require an Export Health Certificate, be subject to physical checks, or hit with a higher import charge.

”This change in classification will add significant time and costs to this critical “just in time” supply chain. Logistics businesses are already struggling with rising inflation, as they operate on particularly narrow margins. These increased costs can only add to inflation and at a time when food inflation remains high,” she said. 

“Our members have kept the UK stocked with goods throughout the pandemic, and have worked tirelessly to prepare for a post-Brexit world. They should not be given conflicting information and kept in the dark until the eleventh hour. Our members deserve better from government. We are seeking urgent clarification on this issue and for decisions on all outstanding issues to be made public, including the import charge government will apply at its border control posts.” 

Logistics UK is one of the UK’s leading business groups representing logistics businesses.