express– Certain meat products, including sausages, mince and prepared meals, from outside the European Union are governed by rules from the bloc. This means they would not be able to enter Northern Ireland from Britain as they would still be locked to EU food safety rules under the Northern Ireland Protocol when the UK begins life outside the bloc from January 31. But in a further blow, the UK has indicated it will also apply reciprocal restrictions on such foods coming from Ireland as London has vowed to replicate the EU’s food safety regime.
The issue, which has yet to be resolved by UK and EU negotiating teams, could trigger major disruption for existing meat supply chains between Ireland and Britain.
EU food safety rules currently state any animal-based products coming from outside the EU must be frozen, meaning certain meat products would be banned from entering Northern Ireland from Britain under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Food that would fall under this bracket includes chilled minced beef, minced pork or sausages, as well as poultry that is either frozen or chilled.
Any fresh meat products that source meat from the EU and then export it to Britain, where they are cut or minced and then sent onto Northern Ireland, would be prohibited.
However, in a further blow, sources close to the talks fear widely-introduced restrictions could extend to more foods, including seed potatoes, breaded poultry, sausages, fresh mince, pork stuffing, marinated meat, barbeque products, meatballs, turkey meatballs, lamb mince and kebabs.
Any meat products entering the EU must come with an export health certificate, which would be signed off by a designated veterinary official in the country exporting the food.
But these certificates are not currently available for prepared meat products which are not frozen.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine told RTE News in Ireland: “EU Regulations set down the model health certificates for meat preparations which must accompany all imports of such products into the EU.
“The relevant Regulation requires these meat preparations to be frozen, and currently does not provide for a certificate to allow for the import of fresh or chilled meat preparations into the EU.”
The UK has said it will start applying its own food safety and animal health regime from April 1 but has suggested it will follow EU food safety rules, including the use of export health certificates.
The Irish Department of Agriculture said: “Whilst the UK have not yet published their import health certificates. They have said that they intend on using EU import certificates as the basis of the certificates they will use for EU exports to Great Britain.”
But sources said regardless if there is a ban in place, huge capacity problems could arise as vets in Ireland would have to sign off on significant on large volumes of export health certificates for meat products heading to the UK from the start of April.
The UK is seeking exemptions from food safety and animal health rules governed by the EU, meaning food consignments being exported to supermarkets in Northern Ireland would not face the same strict physical checks that would come with expensive export health certificates.
British officials also want the European Commission to trigger a World Trade Organisation (WTO) mechanism which could provide reassurance for the EU when it comes to food safety and tracing any food products which might cause problems.
But Irish officials fear if the UK diverges from any of those rules, then the EU could alert the WTO and launch into a consultation period, in which time nothing would change.
One official close to the matter told RTE News: “It’s becoming clearer that this would be a two-way thing.
“If the ban (on such foods entering Northern Ireland) is a consequence of EU law, and the Brits are going to say, we’re going to apply the same rules in the opposite direction – which people would say was reasonable.
“Then the effect of that means the very acute issue of these raw, chilled meats – there would be restrictions there.”