Protecting against food fraud during a period of change.
The agri-food industry has had to advance and adapt at a rapid pace throughout the Brexit transition period. With processes and operations having to undergo drastic change to keep product moving, it has been a turbulent time for the sector, however the era of change is not yet over. Q4 of 2023 is scheduled to bring a host of new regulations for the safety of food being imported into the UK, the question is will these changes help or hinder businesses in their current battle to keep their product safe for consumers.
Moving products intended for human and animal consumption has always come with its own challenges; ensuring the safety of the product, the integrity of the load and that it arrives with minimal impact on shelf life all have a substantial effect on shipment planning and cost. Many of these processes have already felt the impact of both post-Brexit regulations and the Covid-19 pandemic, with Just-In-Time operations being severely affected meaning shipments were reaching warehouses 6 days after they were dispatched, with previous timescales being at 2.5 days.
With supply chains being disrupted in this way the risk of food crime has increased; a 2021 report from The Food Standards Agency mentions that the pandemic has increased the level of vulnerability to food fraud and businesses have to put an even greater focus on its prevention. Assuring food against the adulteration of products and document fraud not only protects the British public, 93% of which are confident that the food they purchase is safe to consume, but also reduces the potential risk of ‘economic and social burdens of foodborne disease and food hypersensitivity.’ It builds trust in the UK supply chain, which if undermined could impact the overall economy as well as the growth of the sector itself. This pressure for greater vigilance on an industry that is already stretched may add further strain on resources.
However, the burden of prevention does not only fall to businesses themselves, with repercussions having the potential to affect the entire economy the British Government have implemented their own processes to help protect the safety of our food.
2021 saw the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) record ‘190 disruptions (food crime interventions) to food crime with 52 Pursue disruptions and 138 Prepare, Prevent or Protect disruptions being delivered’. As well as dedicated crime units, new regulations are scheduled for late 2023 which will increase the number of checks to Products of Animal Origin (POAO) being imported from the EU into the UK. Originally due to come into play in July 2022, they have now been pushed back due to the Russia- Ukraine war and to allow the UK to adapt to the rising cost of living.
When the regulations are in effect, products will:
- Need to pass through a ‘designated Border Control Post that is able to handle ’
- Need to be accompanied by an Environmental Health Certificate (EHC) to prove that it meets UK standards and;
- Be subject to physical and identity checks for the following:
- All remaining regulated animal by-products.
- All regulated plants and plant products.
- All meat and meat
- All remaining high-risk food not of animal
This is in addition to the existing import controls that affect products of this nature which will remain in place. While additional checks could assist in resolving food crime concerns, the added labour and costs associated with ensuring compliance could strain a sector already functioning in a ‘new normal’.
It appears that a solution is needed that will support the industry in providing assurance of the integrity of imported goods, ensuring secure documentation and managing new regulations without detriment to their current operations. The agri-food sector, which is suffering from a shortage of labour, would be able to perform fewer checks should they have evidence of that goods have not been tampered with.
The onward march to digitalisation may hold the answer to many of these concerns, not only for the businesses involved but for the UK Government itself which is currently working on the 2025 Future Borders project, to which it has dedicated £180m. In a recent report by Salesforce, 71% of the small to medium businesses surveyed stated digitalisation helped them to survive the pandemic, reinforcing the argument that digital processes provide the agility to contend with change.
Physical2Digital’s innovative ‘Traces’ platform has been developed to specifically optimise the way that Sanitary and Phytosanitary goods are moved, while also enabling businesses to be agile in a changing regulatory environment. It allows both importing and exporting countries to track their products from supplier, through- out the supply chain to its final destination, with a full audit trail and digital documents, protecting importing nations against document fraud and allowing them to see exactly where their product has been.
Physical seals have also been developed that are connected to the digital world through the Internet of Things; these are not only linked to all relevant documentation for a load, but also provide physical evidence if there has been an attempt to tamper with goods, providing reassurance to importers that the load has remained secure.
Both importing and exporting businesses are still looking at a future of change and some uncertainty, but with the right digital tools and expert support they will be able to not only survive but thrive in the days to come whilst also ensuring that the product they provide to the British public remains at the current level of excellence.
To find out more about Physical2Digital and the services they provide to the retail industry, click here.
This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.