Meat processing factory worker butcher

The government has classified all New Zealand bovine meat imports as ‘low risk’

New reduced trade rules on New Zealand beef imports are causing outrage amongst the industry over food security fears.

Industry representatives have raised concerns that the government’s decision to classify Kiwi beef as ‘low risk’ as part of its new trade strategy, the Border Target Operating Model, might pose a threat to food security.

As per Defra’s new trade requirements, imports of NZ beef will not face controls such as veterinary papers and physical checks when entering the UK.

This stands in contrast to European Union meat products, which are classified as ‘medium risk’ and are set to be subjected to more stringent border checks when the new model comes into place in January next year.

A British Meat Processors Association spokesperson said they were concerned that the industry had not been thoroughly briefed on how on-ground risk assessments in New Zealand were being conducted now that the UK was not abiding by EU rules anymore.

“When we were part of the EU, the UK relied on Europe’s team of assessors who were regularly dispatched – at considerable cost – to trading partner countries like Brazil and New Zealand to physically inspect meat plants and to interrogate them in depth.

“Now the UK is responsible for its own risk assessments, it’s our understanding that they’re simply based on documentation and historical dealings, but not yet backed up by on-the-ground inspections.

“The industry has been given very little detail about how these new UK risk assessments have been carried out and the criteria they’re based on.”

One senior trade figure added: “We were told that meat from the EU had been assessed on the basis of risk to food safety and as a result all meat, except highly processed and shelf stable, was medium risk and had to have export health certification. What makes NZ beef ‘more safe’ on that basis?”

There are also concerns that the UK reducing checks on imports from other areas of the world might affect how the EU sees its food standards, and what that might do to British exports to the bloc.

“Questions are being asked as to whether [Britain] will provide the EU, our most important trading partner, with sufficient confidence in the UK’s biosecurity status, particularly as we now require less stringent checks on products from our other trading partners than the EU does”, the BMPA spokesperson said.

“More importantly, will this disparity in import checks impact our ability to export to the EU, or will it provoke them to ask for additional checks on our exported goods?

“The British meat industry relies on its ability to export to the EU parts of the animal for which there is no market here in the UK. Without that ability to extract value from the whole animal (otherwise known as ‘carcase balance’) that lost revenue would have to be recouped from the domestic market, which would mean higher prices in the shops.”

British import controls on New Zealand goods were already light touch, compared to other countries, under the rolled over UK-NZ veterinary agreement in place prior to the free trade agreement that came into force this June.

But Defra’s categorisation of New Zealand beef as low risk comes after months of claims, particularly from the farming sector, that the NZ and Australian post-Brexit trade deals undercut British producers and posed food safety and standard risks.

Signed in December 2021 by former PM Liz Truss, who was international trade secretary at the time, the New Zealand and Australia trade deals have been branded a “failure” by former environment minister George Eustice.

The cross-party Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Efra) committee launched an inquiry this June into the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals over concerns as to how they could impact the British agrifood sector and consumers.

A Defra spokesman said: “The Border Target Operating Model protects the UK’s biosecurity and ensures our trading partners have confidence in our exports. The model will retain the mechanisms recognised and applied across the world as the key building blocks for sanitary and phytosanitary controls.

”All commodities under SPS import control are assessed for the risk that they carry to UK biosecurity, including to public health, and categorised accordingly.

“The FSA will continue to monitor food and feed safety at the border to ensure that the new import controls outlined in the BTOM continue to provide high levels of protection for UK consumers by preventing the entry of unsafe food and feed.”