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Food Labels, Regulations and Brexit: A Concern for Irish Food Businesses

24 November 2020

When the Brexit transition period expires on 1 January 2021, food products originating from Great Britain (GB) will need to comply with EU standards when they are imported into Ireland and other EU member states.

One might think that is not a problem, as those GB foods currently comply with EU laws.  But the problem arises because GB foods will have to change in several respects.  

  • The food business operator (fbo) identity and address: pre-packaged food must have an EU fbo and address, or have the name and address of the importer into the EU. Any Irish business buying and reselling GB foods risks taking on significantly increased food law obligations as an importer into the EU, and must check that the label identifies an EU based manufacturer / brand owner, or the importer. We have been assisting UK food and drink companies establishing fbo operations and import activity, as the deadline for displaying an EU based fbo and address on food labels rapidly approaches.

  • Country of origin labels: Food from GB must not be labelled as ‘origin EU’ from 1 January 2021. Food from Northern Ireland should be labelled as UK(NI) where country of origin rules apply.

  • EU organic logo: unless there is an equivalency deal between the UK and the EU, GB food cannot be labelled as organic when sold into remaining EU member states (EU 27).

  • EU health and identification marks: food products of animal origin (POAO), such as meat, egg products, fish, cheese and milk, must display new health and identification marks when exported to the EU27 from 1 January 2021. The UK is proposing a 21 month grace period for EU (including GB) foods placed on the GB market from 1 January 2021, to allow UK businesses to deplete existing stocks and avoid food shortages.

This change in rules will impact the resale in Ireland of food purchased from UK suppliers, particularly as the Irish business may be liable as importer into the EU for all aspects of compliance with EU food law.  We strongly recommend that Irish companies address these issues for imports from the UK in advance of year end. 

From Ireland to the UK

While the UK has proposed grace periods from certain labelling requirements that will provide some relief from Brexit impacts for Irish foods, considerable challenges remain. These challenges threaten the 37% of Irish food and drink exports that went to the UK market in 2019, valued at €4.5 billion.

  • Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls will be conducted on movements of animals, plants and products of animal and plant origin between the UK and Ireland from January 2021

  • Export paperwork will increase, requiring additional resources and skills within the Irish fbo

  • Delays at ports and border checks will have particular impact for fresh foods, seafood and dairy

  • In the absence of a trade deal between the EU and the UK, tariffs on Irish food sold in GB would range from 72% on beef exports to 40% on dairy and 11% on fruit and vegetables [1] .The impact of tariffs across sectors will be asymmetrical, with some meat sectors that are heavily reliant on the GB market particularly exposed

Northern Ireland

The controversial and heavily negotiated Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland will apply from 1 January 2021, meaning that Northern Ireland will remain aligned to EU rules related to goods, including food. This will avoid any customs or regulatory checks or controls on the island of Ireland. However, foods moving from NI to GB, and GB to NI will be considered as exports out of and into the EU.  The rules for Northern Ireland are complex, giving rise to fears that GB suppliers will stop supplying NI retailers, resulting in food shortages in NI in 2021.

Conclusion

Fbos on both sides of the Irish Sea face serious disruption to trading into and out of GB.  With no apparent extensions to the transition period possible, and no agreement yet on a trade deal, the prospect of tariffs is very real, and potentially very damaging for Irish food businesses.

The final urgent advice for Irish fbos is to use all available government resources to prepare for Brexit. Complete the registrations for export and/or import. Train staff for the increased paperwork. Implement contingency plans for transport delays. Assess the tax (VAT, customs and tariffs) implications, and understand and address the potential impacts for cashflow in these final busy weeks of 2020.  

For further information, contact a member of our Food, Agriculture & Beverage team.


The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. 

[1] Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Potential Tariff Rates for IE Agri-Food Trade with no UK-EU Deal, 14 October 2020

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