- Exclusive: UK government officials told the food industry that supplies of liquid egg could run out in a no-deal Brexit.
- Industry leaders were warned this week that liquid egg, a key ingredient for UK food manufacturers, had been added to the list of foods that could be in short supply if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal at the end of October.
- The private warnings contradicted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim this week that it is “highly unlikely” that there would be food shortages in a no-deal scenario.
- Large volumes of liquid egg are imported from the EU and often have a shelf life of just a few days.
- Food groups warned that any shortage in egg products would open the door to egg products with lower standards entering the UK.
- A government representative said: “We have a highly-resilient food supply chain and consumers in the UK have access to a range of sources of food. This will continue to be the case when we leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.”
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Government officials this week warned food industry leaders that supplies of liquid egg could run out if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a Brexit deal in October.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week publicly dismissed warnings that there would be food shortages, telling Sky News that it is “highly unlikely” that food stocks would dry up.
However, officials in the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs privately warned industry leaders that delays at the border risked causing a shortage of liquid egg, much of which is imported from the EU to make a large variety of food products in the UK.
Liquid egg is egg removed from its shell before being sold to manufacturers, which use it as an ingredient in a range of goods, including cakes, pastries, and sauces. When transported in bulk and sold to the food industry, it has a shelf life of two to three days, according to the European Food Safety Authority.
Industry figures told Business Insider that warnings from DEFRA officials used the recently leaked Yellowhammer report as their basis, despite claims from Johnson’s government that the document was out of date.
Industry figures were told that in a no-deal Brexit scenario, the government expected that up to 60% of lorries would not have the correct documentation to move between Dover and Calais, with some lorries potentially having to wait up to two days before crossing the Channel.
This in turn would disrupt the flow of liquid egg, plus other foods like soft fruit and vegetables, reaching the UK.
“Every time I go to a meeting I find out something else,” a figure who attended the discussion with ministers told Business Insider.
A DEFRA representative: “We have a highly-resilient food supply chain and consumers in the UK have access to a range of sources of food. This will continue to be the case when we leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.
“The food industry is well versed at dealing with scenarios that can affect food supply, from adverse weather damaging crops in other countries to transport issues abroad. The UK has robust supply chains across a range of countries to provide our food, in addition to the countless domestic food producers across the UK.
“We are meeting regularly with the food industry to make sure they are fully prepared for leaving the EU.”
Egg groups are ‘appalled’ by the government’s no-deal plans
Liquid egg makes up a large portion of egg imports coming to the UK from the EU. The National Farmers Union estimated that 50% of egg imports from EU countries — a “considerable percentage” — were in liquid or dried form. They come from the Netherlands mainly, as well as Belgium, France, and other EU countries.
British Lion Eggs confirmed there was a “potential for a shortfall” in liquid egg but said it hoped it would be “limited, in the short term at least,” as manufacturers and producers have used contingency measures like stockpiling.
However, it said it was “appalled” by the UK government’s decision to remove tariffs on egg and egg products in a no-deal Brexit as it would lead to eggs and egg products with lower standards being imported to make up for any shortfall.
“By way of example, there is no national legislation on laying hen welfare in most non-EU countries where hens have less than 400cm 2 of space each — which is far less than when we banned battery cages throughout the EU in 2012,” a representative told Business Insider.
“This contradicts the government’s wish to further improve animal welfare standards. We would see millions of eggs from barren battery cages back on the menu, and that’s before we even consider the food safety issues, from fipronil to salmonella, that have been associated with foreign egg production.”
Sue Hayman, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, told Business Insider that “this is yet another example of how a no deal Brexit would harm British food manufacturing.”
She added: “The food and drink industry is Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, bigger than the aerospace and car industries combined. Labour will continue to strongly oppose a disastrous no deal Brexit.”
Naomi Smith, the CEO of the pro-EU group Best for Britain, said: “Liquid egg is something we use in a whole range of products in this country, yet a no-deal Brexit now threatens our supply.
“The UK baked goods market is worth over three and a half billion pounds and represents one of the largest markets within the UK food industry. No-deal jeopardises that.”
She added: “This is yet more evidence that the country is absolutely not prepared for a damaging no-deal Brexit. It’s now clear that Brexit wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. We must stop it.”
Businesses believe that a no-deal Brexit is no longer ‘hypothetical’
Business leaders who spoke with Business Insider this week said that no-deal preparations had increased significantly in recent weeks in response to Johnson’s hardline approach to Brexit. The prime minister triggered outrage on Wednesday by moving to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to the UK’s exit from the EU.
A senior industry figure said there had been a “shift in mood and seriousness” among businesses.
“Conversations about no deal had been hypothetical up until a few weeks ago. It does not feel like this anymore. It feels like it is happening in two months’ time,” they told Business Insider.
Johnson’s government has stepped up no-deal preparations as October 31 approaches.
Chancellor Sajid Javid last week said that each UK business that exports to the EU would be automatically be given an EORI number, which they’d need to trade with the EU in a no-deal scenario.
However, businesses are struggling to prepare for some consequences.
Business Insider reported earlier this year that many of the warehouses that businesses used for stockpiling goods before a March exit were not available for October 31, as they were booked for the busy Christmas period.
This problem remains unresolved. A major toy company that carried out 90% of necessary stockpiling ahead of March said it had been able to complete only 40% of necessary stockpiling for October because of a lack of available warehouses.
UK and EU negotiators are set to meet twice a week next month in an effort to break the Brexit impasse, the UK government said on Thursday evening.
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