Monday 26 August 2019

UK warned of food shortages and rotting produce in trucks

A tailback of trucks travelling to Dover as part of a trial last January of the UK’s no-deal capabilities. Photo: Bloomberg
A tailback of trucks travelling to Dover as part of a trial last January of the UK’s no-deal capabilities. Photo: Bloomberg

Kate Holton

A disorderly no-deal Brexit would disrupt some food supplies for weeks or months if delays at ports left fresh produce rotting in trucks, an industry trade body warned yesterday.

Retailers such as Tesco have warned that the UK leaving the EU on October 31 without a trade deal would be hugely problematic for the industry, as much of the fresh produce is imported, and warehouses are stocked full ahead of Christmas.

Ahead of the original Brexit deadline of March 29, supermarkets and other retailers worked with suppliers to increase stocks of dried goods including pasta, bottled water and toilet paper. They have said, however, that fresh fruit and vegetables, which have a short shelf-life of only a few days, cannot be stored and that customs checks at Britain's biggest port of Dover might lead to delays for arrivals.

The industry has also tested different ports to avoid the main route of Dover-Calais, while pharmaceutical companies have reserved space on airlines to fly in supplies if needed.

"The food sector is absolutely clear that a no-deal exit is a disastrous outcome for us," the UK Food and Drink Federation's chief operating officer Tim Rycroft told BBC radio.

"There will be selective shortages and they will to some extent be random, because it depends on which trucks get through and which don't. We think there will be some serious disruption and it will go on for weeks or months after our exit."

The body has urged the UK government to waive some competition rules to allow retailers and suppliers to be able to work together to provide the most effective coverage for the country in such a situation.

Mr Rycroft said the industry had repeatedly asked the government to provide a guarantee that companies would not be fined by the regulator for engaging in anti-competitive behaviour.

"In the event of no-deal disruption, if the government wants the food supply chain to work together to tackle likely shortages - to decide where to prioritise shipments - it will have to provide cast-iron written reassurances that competition law will not be strictly applied to those discussions," Mr Rycroft said.

Brexit supporters say there may be short-term disruption from a no-deal exit, but that the UK will thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed experiment in integration that has led to Europe falling behind China and the US.


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