“No Deal” Brexit – government advice for the food sector

24 September, 2018

As announced earlier this year, the government published its first series of technical notices dealing with a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario. Of particular note to the food and drink sector are the notices dealing with developing genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”) and with producing and processing organic food.

GMOs

A “no-deal” Brexit would have limited impact with respect to GMOs, given that only one type of GM crop seed (MON 810 maize) has EU approval for commercial cultivation, which is not developed in the UK.

 Organic Food and Drink

Greater complexity and concerns arise in the fast-growing organic market.  As regards labelling, the Government’s notice advises producers that the EU organic certification logo will need to be removed, although there will be a grace period to enable existing stock to be used up.  In relation to ensuring the traceability of food and feed products, a new UK-owned system would replace the current EU TRACES NT system (and the Government is promising more information on this over the coming weeks).  More fundamental however are potential trade barriers. Currently, organic food is produced in accordance with EU legislation, following a series of rigorous standards. Checking up on these standards in the UK market are a number of control bodies authorised by Defra who license individual organic operators. This ensures that organic food produced in the UK can be sold to the rest of the EU. Equivalent systems apply in other EU member states to ensure the unhindered import of organic food to the UK.

Whilst the government has noted its commitment to maintaining high standards in the organic food industry, in the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK will nevertheless be treated as a non-EU third country.  Therefore in order for British organic produce to be exported to Europe, the European Commission will need to agree to recognise and approve the UK’s organic control bodies. This process could however take up to nine months, essentially blocking market access for EU exporters of organic food from the UK. To mitigate this problem and given that both the UK and the EU apply the same standards, an equivalency arrangement is expected to be negotiated where each party would recognise each others’ current arrangements which could bridge any gap between a no-deal Brexit and eventual approval of the UK control bodies. Failure to do so may lead to the sudden emergence of barriers to exporting to the EU for UK organic food producers, and food producers are advised to examine all aspects of their business to ensure they are able to deal with this scenario.

See our blog for guidance on where to start if you haven’t already done so here.