Oakland International has seen an uptick in demand in claims linked to clandestine infiltration

Thousands of tonnes of food entering the UK from the EU are having to be destroyed over food safety concerns linked to a rise in migrants crossing the Channel in the back of lorries.

Food companies are having to dispose of thousands of pounds worth of goods due to ‘clandestine infiltration’, in which the safety of food products was compromised by migrants’ presence inside lorry trailers – and the numbers are predicted to rise “significantly” in the coming months.

Supply chain specialist Oakland International, which offers a distress load management (DLM) service that aims to reduce food waste linked to human tampering, has seen a “significant increase” in recent months in the number of loads where there is evidence of people using the trucks as a route into the UK.

The company is having to expand its DLM service after seeing a 33% increase in volumes in March/April compared to February, which it says “seems to tie in to the major news about the Rwanda deportation announcements”.

Under the UK government’s recent agreement with the Rwandan government, which was announced in April, migrants who cross the Channel via unofficial routes – such as small boats – could be deported to the East African country.

Oakland co-founder and CEO Dean Attwell said he expects the boat crossings to become “increasingly less popular” as news of deportation to Rwanda spreads, leading to more people trying to attempt to cross the France and UK border via trucks.

One loss adjuster firm handling claims from food companies has also noticed an uptick in complaints linked to clandestine infiltration in recent weeks.

“It was quiet for a couple of months but in the last two weeks we’ve had three incidents. And we only work with some companies,” said a source inside the company.

One of them included a cheese products consignment that presented evidence that people had been in the trailer when it arrived at the receiver’s premises. It was then noted that one of the door handles had been tampered with.

“A lot of colleagues and trucking companies give instructions to their drivers to not park within 100-150 kilometres of Calais. But then the immigrants and the people traffickers just go further out,” the source added.

”I’ve had people discovered in trailers as far out as the French-Belgian border.”

According to the Associated Press, around 11,000 migrants crossed the Channel via lorries between January and October 2021.

But industry insiders believe the UK and French governments’ increase of border checks derived from Brexit legislation has made it easier for migrants to infiltrate the trailers, because every additional checkpoint en route to the ports is “an opportunity” for those trying to make their way across the Channel.

“People go to great lengths to try and make sure their trucks are not stopping anywhere near the ports, but if there’s a queue at the port that’s where people get on,” one source said. “Anything the government does to cause those trucks to stop for any longer than necessary for an inspection process is a challenge.”

Last year, Oakland handled 520 loads of stock subject to clandestine infiltration. It is currently handling between 15 to 20 claims a week directly linked to migrants, and is expecting those numbers to double this year.

But the issue might be much bigger – according to its estimates, around 70 trucks (or 1,400 tonnes of food products) could be at risk each week, posing a food safety risk.

“The current practice for many operators is to ignore the issue and approach it as if it is a few damaged cases which can be removed, and the rest of the load goes unchecked,” Attwell said.

“Many brand owners won’t even know their stock has been subject to clandestine infiltration on its journey to the UK.”

Food distribution firms are often made aware that people infiltrated a lorry either when the vehicles cross the border and they purposefully make themselves heard, or when the vehicles reach their destination in the UK and there is evidence to support this upon opening the trailer– such as footprints, moved or damaged pallets, or broken door handles.

This is typically when Oakland’s services are requested. The supply chain specialist then runs thorough, science-based food safety checks to determine how much of a load has been affected.

“Most of this stock for disposal consists of pallets where immigrants have sat on or ‘nested’ to conceal themselves and protect themselves from the cold,” Attwell said.

“The remaining stock is where we are removing external layers of stock which may have been exposed to contamination through foreign objects – so this is all precautionary stock disposal to protect the food safety and quality credentials of each consignment.”

The process allows it to save around 85% of an affected load, while 15% is disposed of via an anaerobic digestion solution.

Last year, Oakland disposed of 1,800 tonnes of stock and salvaged around 12,000 tonnes of food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Attwell said his biggest concern was that many in the industry did not know services like Oakland’s were even available, leading to either thousands of tonnes of good food going to waste, or the continued circulation of goods whose safety has been compromised.

“We think the problem is going to get worse. We want to be able to get up to 2,000 trucks a year, and we still think there’s going to be a significant opportunity above that – which is unfortunate, but it’s necessary.”