A UK food company whose products appear on the shelves of the country’s largest supermarkets has decided to stop using British pork in its sausages because of the post-Brexit complications of moving meat across borders.
After two disastrous attempts since January to send British pork to Germany, where it is made into 75 tonnes of organic sausages annually, the firm behind Helen Browning’s Organic says it has been forced to drop its support for UK farmers and switch to Danish suppliers.
“The cost, the complexity, and the sheer time and effort it takes to manage an export, it’s just not worth it,” said Vicky McNicholas, the firm’s managing director.
Helen Browning’s Organic, which is named after the Wiltshire farmer who founded the business, supplies beef and pork products to some of Britain’s biggest retailers including Sainsbury’s, Ocado, and Abel and Cole, and is about to launch at Tesco.
The news will come as a further blow for British pig farmers, who have warned the government about the “unprecedented challenges” the industry is facing, because of problems exporting pigs and pork to the EU and Northern Ireland since Brexit.
The latest government statistics show UK food exports to the EU have decreased by at least 45% since 1 January.
Many smaller food producers have been “shut out” of sending produce to the EU since Brexit, according the Food and Drink Federation, which has analysed the figures from HM Revenue & Customs.
Beef exports decreased by 92% in January, down from GBP40m in the same month last year to GBP3m, while pork exports fell by 87% and lamb and mutton by 45%. All of these meat products feature in the UK’s top 10 exports to the EU.
A Guardian analysis of information from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shows that since Brexit meat exports now require a 26-step process, which is fraught with bureaucracy and generates a mound of paperwork.
For two decades, Helen Browning’s Organics sausages – which account for about a quarter of its sales – have been manufactured in Germany because of, according to the company, a lack of a suitable factory in the UK. The vast majority (85%) of its sausages, representing 300,000 packets of sausages annually, were re-exported to Britain to be sold to UK consumers.
Before Brexit, borderless trade with the EU meant the firm fcould easily send pork to its Bavarian factory. That has changed since 1 January, when customs controls were introduced.
Both shipments of meat the company sent to the EU since then were held up at French customs for several days, which is problematic for perishable goods such as meat. In addition, each load cost the firm GBP3,500 more to send than in December 2020, adding around 25p to the cost of each GBP3.99 packet of sausages.
As a result, the company has decided to source the pork for its sausages in Denmark, but this has already meant the loss of some UK customers, who only sell British meat.
“This is a huge step to take. We’re all about supporting British farmers. It goes against everything that we want to do. It doesn’t sit comfortably with us,” McNicholas said.
“There is a knock-on effect for us of all these decisions. It’s not as simple as just using EU meat. We have to change packaging and labelling,” she added.
McNicholas said she was also concerned by the government’s decision to delay the introduction of import controls on EU goods, including meat, until 1 January 2022, because she said this meant trade was easier for EU businesses sending goods.
“It is not a level playing field. We have to bring the sausages back into the country, and they just arrive,” she said.
Other meat producers have also stopped exporting to the EU since January, according to a member survey conducted by the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA). The trade body found that meat exports reached only between 30% and 40% of pre-Brexit levels in the first six weeks of the year.
Peter Hardwick, a trade policy adviser at the BMPA, said “The involved and complex procedures required to export have led to a doubling of the costs of exporting as well as doubling end to end delivery times. These risk a longer term, possibly permanent, reduction in trade with the EU.”