How Brexit added layers of bureaucracy to meat exports | Politics


Before Brexit, it was as easy to send a shipment of meat to Bavaria as it was to Birmingham, but since Britain left the EU, trade with the continent requires significantly more paperwork, cost and effort. Animal products such as meat have a particularly high number of checks and documents.

Before 1 January, meat exporters based in the UK only needed to obtain a consignment note (CMR) and a delivery note before their goods could be loaded on to a lorry and transported across the Channel.


Guardian analysis of information from the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveals that sending an identical shipment to the continent now results in a 26-stage process in order for meat to be exported from Great Britain to the EU.

Certifying officers – typically vets – need to check each consignment before departure. Traders need to input details into at least five databases, while obtaining multiple certificates, reference numbers, documents and permits – all of which result in a mound of paperwork.

This could explain why exports of meat to the EU collapsed by as much as 92% in January compared with a year earlier, according to analysis of HMRC figures by the Food and Drink Federation.

What follows is an example of all the possible steps an exporter faces to ensure a shipment of meat from Great Britain reaches a customer in the EU. It includes a physical inspection of the goods by customs in France, which currently takes place for about one in five loads. If the load is rejected, delivery can be delayed, and in the worst case the goods are re-exported or even destroyed.

Even once the trader has completed all the necessary steps to export their meat, smooth passage is not guaranteed.

regular pyramid built from four equilateral triangles

An example EXP form which must be completed in triplicate for every consignment. Photograph: British Meat Processors Association

As sausage maker Helen Browning’s Organics discovered during their two attempts at moving meat from Great Britain to its manufacturing site in the EU since January, any errors in the paperwork, missing information, or sheer bad luck can lead to shipments being held up for several days at French customs. Delays are not only costly for businesses, but can result in a much shorter shelf life for perishable items, making traders unpopular with their retail customers, or even leading to empty supermarket shelves.