Fresh produce leaders have criticised Defra’s “lack of clarity” over how a new EU directive on imports will operate. The new regulations will require more inspections of produce imported into the EU.
Speaking at a specially called industry summit, Fresh Produce Consortium chief executive Nigel Jenney warned that perishable produce could become held up by Customs, preventing its arrival on retail shelves. “The uncertainty still remains,” he told Defra representatives at the meeting.
To ease the burden of the new rules, Defra says it is to adopt a computer entry system called Peach.
However, until it is installed, responsibility for inspections will fall solely on the Plant Health Inspectorate. This service will not be available at weekends or public holidays, which means it could curtail specific short-term import programmes.
There is also uncertainty about the cost of inspection, which will be met by importers. While the European Commission has suggested £22 per consignment, Defra has proposed £44 to cover higher costs in northern Europe. And there is further confusion because there is currently no definition of what constitutes a consignment.
With three months to go until implementation of the regulations on January 1, representatives from Tesco and M& S both said there should have been greater consultation and discussion far earlier.
Some produce, such as bananas and grapes, do not need certificates to prove they are disease-free. But the vast majority require inspection and without certification products will not be cleared by Customs.